Gators continue winning ways

Behind a barrage of threes and stifling defense, the Gators women’s basketball team won again at home, beating Auburn 70-56 Thursday night.

The Gators have now won three consecutive games.

“I just would credit the team with having a great, resilient spirit and not allowing disappointment to dictate anything to them,” Florida coach Amanda Butler said. “To dictate how they were going to practice or what their expectation was going to be.”

With the win, Florida (16-8, 6-5) is now above .500 in conference play for the first time this season.

“I didn’t think we played our best, but I think that it’s a great indication when you feel that way and you know there are areas that you could have done better in, and you are still able to beat, I think, a very talent team by double figures,” Butler said.

Thursday night was another strong performance from Lanita Bartley. She led the team 17 points, connecting on three of her four attempts from the three-point line.

It was her fourth consecutive game with double figures in scoring.

“My teammates just share the ball,” she said, downplaying her effort. “Everybody is confident in me, and that helps a lot.”

Deana Allen and Jaterra Bonds combined with Bartley to form a backcourt trio that was too much for Auburn.

The three combined for 43 points in the game. Still, it was their defense that keyed the victory just as much as their offense.

Auburn (11-14, 3-9) shot well to open the game and led for much of the first half, but the team’s inability to consistently deal with the more physical Gators’ pressure caused problems.

After trading baskets for much of the first half, neither team was able to secure much momentum. However, as is often the case, the final two minutes of the half proved to be crucial in the game.

The Gators went on a 9-2 run to close out the first half, giving them a led 36-31 midway through the game.

Coming out of halftime, the Gators picked up where they left off to close out the first half. The Gators scored the first 10 points of the second half, taking a 46-31 lead.

“The last two minutes of the first half really gave them the momentum, said Nell Fortner, head coach of Auburn. “We turned the ball over too many times there and it gave them a real shot in the arm. Once they went on that 10-0 run, we just couldn’t quite get back in it.”

Turnovers plagued Auburn throughout the night, as they finished with 22. As a result, the Gators outscored Auburn 26-11 in points off turnovers.

The Gators also held a 13-2 advantage in points on the fast break.

“Our team just plays so hard, all the time,” Butler said. “It’s just so rewarding to see a column like that have a big number in it.”

Another column with a big number in it was the made three-pointers. The team hit 8 of its 17 attempts.

Sequences of Auburn turnovers leading into rhythm three-pointers for Florida gave the Gators the spark they needed on a night where their half-court offense was not completely there.

As Butler said, the Gators certainly did not play their finest game of the season, but in the end, it was enough.

Enough for another win. Enough to continue to build confidence throughout the team.

Having now taken care of business against the bottom half of the conference over the last week, Florida must prepare for a grueling stretch of basketball. Of their remaining five games, the Gators will play four teams that are currently ranked.

This stretch will offer a better understanding of how the team currently compares to the conference’s best competition.

Up next is No. 24 South Carolina. Florida lost to South Carolina 49-44 in Gainesville on Jan. 8.

The Gators will travel to Columbia Sunday for the nationally televised game. Tipoff is 5 p.m., and the game will be shown on ESPN2.

You can follow Gator Country writer Phillip Heilman on Twitter at phillip_heilman.