Florida continues its postseason action on Monday, March 20, when the team travels to Fort Myers and plays Florida Gulf Coast in the second round of the Postseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at Alico Arena, where the Eagles (28-3) have won 42 consecutive games, the third-longest active streak in the country behind only Connecticut (81) and Stanford (61). The Eagles’ last home loss was back on Jan. 8, 2009, against East Tennessee State.
Florida (19-14) leads the three-game series against FGCU, 2-1, however the Eagles won the most recent meeting, earning the 88-86 victory on Nov. 14, 2008, at Alico Arena in the 2008-09 season-opener for both teams.
Monday’s game will be UF’s third consecutive outing against a team that won its respective conference’s regular-season championship: Tennessee won the SEC, UMBC won the America East and FGCU won the Atlantic Sun.
If the winning streak isn’t impressive enough, FGCU is 137-9 all-time at home, including a 59-3 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).
The Eagles lead the country with 10.9 three-pointers per game, while hitting them at an astounding 37.1 percent accuracy mark (339-913). There’s not just one Eagle who is the team’s primary sharp-shooter, as eight different players have canned at least 14 from deep, with Kelsey Jacobson leading the way, sinking 95-of-246 (38.6%). The 2010-11 squad dropped a NCAA season-leading 20 treys against Mercer on Jan. 17, attempting an NCAA Division I record 55 in that game.
“They are probably a three-year running NCAA Tournament team if they would have been eligible to compete. Karl (Smesko) does a great job every year of not just getting his team ready to compete, but in recruiting and in consistently getting the type of player they need to be successful,” UF head coach Amanda Butler said. “Nationally, their record speaks for itself. They are a tough match-up for us, but we’re excited to still be playing.
“The easy answer about how to defend the three is play tough man defense and really pressure the ball, but they are too good to do just that,” Butler continued. “There’s not just one answer about how to stop their three-point success. We have to do a really good job as communicators, not just defenders. We did an average job of that in our last game. We have to try different things to keep them out of rhythm. They are junior and seniors and have great chemistry and are use to playing together. They are use to seeing man pressure so we’re going to have to be creative.”
Florida redshirt junior Jordan Jones actually holds the Postseason WNIT single-game record for three-pointers, knocking down nine against North Carolina A&T on March 21, 2008. Jones, the Gators’ leader from long range, has hit 16-of-29 three-pointers (55.2%) over the last five games.
Overall this season, Jones is 69-of-178 from long range for 38.8%, the second-highest accuracy mark in a season in UF history. Her 69 treys rank eighth in a season, three behind the 72 Talatha Bingham sank in 1996-97. Bingham hit 73 during the 1997-98 season, while Steffi Sorensen canned 78 in 2008-09 and 2009-10. Brandi McCain set the season mark with 101 in 2000-01.
Jones leads the balanced Gator scoring effort, recording 10.3 points per game, hitting a team-leading 69 three-pointers at a 36.9 percent clip and playing 32.6 minutes per outing.
Junior Azania Stewart is Florida’s leading rebounder with 6.1 per game and hits 51.7 percent field goal mark (Stewart led the SEC in field goal percentage last year, 61.9%). Her 57 blocked shots is also tops for the Gators and second in the SEC. Lanita Bartley is dishing 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals, while finding her way to the free throw a team-best 128 times.
During the last five games – four of them wins – Jones is averaging 14.6 points and hitting 16-of-29 three-pointers (55.2%). Jones reached the 1,000-career point plateau with her 11th and final point in the SEC Tournament win against Arkansas.
Also during the last FIVE games, Jaterra Bonds is averaging 13.2 points per game, hitting 34.4 percent from the three-point arc (11-32) with 10 assists.
Florida has won six of its last seven games and ended its regular season winning three consecutive SEC games, as the squad earned victories against Mississippi State (78-63 – its largest margin of victory in an SEC game this year), at Vanderbilt (74-69 – in Nashville, where the Gators last won on Feb. 1, 2004) and at home against No. 22-ranked Georgia (74-71 – stretching its home win streak vs. Georgia to a program-record three). The Gators then added one more win to its late-season win streak, defeating Arkansas, 68-59, in the first round of the SEC Tournament.
Florida’s inclusion in the 2011 WNIT field marks the 17th time in the last 19 years the team has earned a postseason berth.