FORT MYERS — Freshman Jaterra Bonds (Gainesville, Fla.) led Florida’s comeback with 19 points and the Gators knocked off Florida Gulf Coast, 74-69, on Monday in the second round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament in front of an Alico Arena record-crowd of 4,543.
The Gator win snapped the Eagles’ 42 game home-winning streak, which stood as the third longest active streak in the country, and gave Florida its 10th 20-win season in program history, as the team improved to 20-14 overall.
Florida advances to the WNIT round of 16 and will play at Charlotte (25-9) on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. The 49ers defeated South Carolina, 69-57, on Sunday in Columbia in their second-round game.
The Gators and 49ers met during the regular season and Florida won that match-up, 76-70, on Nov. 15 in Gainesville in the second round of the Preseason WNIT.
On Monday, Bonds coolly converted two free throws with 16.9 second remaining and gave Florida a 73-69 lead. The Gator defense then held and Bonds returned to the charity stripe where she sank one more with 6.7 seconds left to secure the victory.
“We played hard and never gave up,” UF head coach Amanda Butler said. “They are a team that shoots the ball so well and this environment was unbelievable. The community is to be commended for how well they support their team. (FGCU Coach) Karl (Smesko) does a great job of getting his team prepared. I’m extremely proud of my team.
“Even when things weren’t going our way, we hung in there and kept plugging along and really tried to stay focused on getting stops. With about eight or nine minutes remaining, offensively we started making the plays that we expected to make throughout the game. We showed tremendous fight and a resilient spirit. I’m really, really proud of the way we responded. We had some challenges on the bench and went at some players and directly challenged them. Jennifer George was one of those players and she stepped up and finished with a double-double.”
George, a sophomore from Orlando, finished the game with 10 points and a game-high 11 rebounds, with seven of her boards coming in the second half when Florida out-rebounded the Eagles (29-3) by 14. The double-double was her third this year and the fourth of her career.
After FGCU took a 51-42 lead with 14:57 remaining that forced Florida to call a timeout, the Gators responded with a 11-0 run, seven points from Bonds, and took a 53-51 lead with 11:39 left. The last of those points came from an offensive put-back from George, who collected Bonds’ missed free throw attempt.
The teams traded scores for the next minute before the Eagles scored four straight points and held a 58-54 lead with 9:43 on the clock.
Deana Allen (Houma, La.), who finished with 17 points, one shy of her career high, then knocked down a driving jumper and Ndidi Madu (Antioch, Tenn.) canned a 10-footer from the left corner and tied the game.
After a pair of Eagle free throws, Allen and Madu, who finished with 11 points, struck again and gave the Gators a 62-60 lead.
Courtney Chihil converted a three-point play and the lead swung back in favor of the hosts, but Azania Stewart (Wood Green, England) hit a turn-around jumper in the paint, before she found George inside for a short jumper and Stewart capped a 6-0 spurt with another short shot and gave Florida a 68-63 lead with 3:07 remaining.
Nicoya Jackson hit both ends of a one-and-one for FGCU, before Bonds got one of the points back at the line, helping Florida maintain a four-point edge with 1:48 on the clock.
Chilhil tried to lead one last Eagle run by nailing the team’s 11th three-pointer of the contest with 1:34 and had record-crowd on its feet as its team was within one.
Lanita Bartley (Jacksonville, Fla.) quieted the raucous fans with her driving layup 22 seconds later and gave Florida a 71-68 lead with 68 seconds remaining.
Chihil, who ended with 19 points, reduced UF’s lead by one from the free throw line.
Florida missed its next shot on the ensuing possession, but Stewart corralled the miss and kept the ball in the Gators’ hands, as FGCU eventually fouled Bonds with 16.9 seconds remaining when she calmly converted both charity tossed and iced the game, earning a win at Alico Arena where the Eagles hadn’t lost since Jan. 8, 2009. Since that time, FGCU built a winning-streak that trailed only Connecticut (81) and Stanford (61).
If the Eagle’s winning streak wasn’t isn’t impressive enough, FGCU fell to just 137-10 all-time at home, including a 59-4 record since becoming a NCAA Division I program – a winning percentage of 96.2 which is the highest in the country, leading Tennessee’s 340-20 record for a 94.4 winning percentage (entering the NCAA Second Round).
Florida hit 53.7 percent (29-54) from the floor during the game, while sinking a clutch 13-of-18 from the free throw line.
FGCU shot 41.4 percent (24-58) overall, including 11-of-27 from the three-point arc, meeting its average number of treys per game, a mark that leads the country.
The game was even for the first five-plus minutes as the teams basically traded buckets before FGCU caught fire with a 10-0 run capped by a pair of three-pointers from Shannon Murphy and the Eagles took a 20-12 lead with 11:58 remaining in the first half.
George halted the spree with an inside jumper and Deana Allen (Houma, La.) followed with a three-pointer and brought the deficit to three.
Courtney Chihil fired one from deep, but Jaterra Bonds (Gainesville, Fla.) answered with one for Florida and George put back an offensive rebound and the Gators were within one point, 23-22, with 9:37 remaining in the opening frame.
Again the hosts let it rip from long range and had a four-point spread after their next possession. Madu was able to knock down a 17-footer and after one FGCU free throw, Madu canned another and had Florida back within one, 27-26.
The Eagles scored the next four points of the game, before Bonds hit a jumper. After one from FGCU, Bartley (Jacksonville, Fla.) converted one free throw, but Murphy hit another trey and had the Eagles’ lead back to seven, 36-29, with 2:43 on the clock.
Allen sank another inside jumper and Bonds hit a three-pointer and brought the Gators back within two points with 1:18 remaining.
Sarah Hansen then converted FGCU’s seventh trey of the half with 57 seconds remaining, before the team’s traded field goals from within the arc as the Eagles took a 41-36 halftime lead.
The Gators shot a healthy 53.3 percent from the floor, while FGCU hit 51.7 percent, but the different was beyond the arc, where the Eagles nailed 7-of-14 compared to the Gators’ 3-of-9 effort.