Recovering from a slow start in their first conference road game of the season, the Florida Gators women’s basketball team was able to regain its composure and earn its first victory in conference play this season.
With 18 points and 11 rebounds, Jennifer George once again led the way, helping the Gators (11-4, 1-1) to a 59-55 victory at Tad Smith Coliseum.
Coming into the game, the two teams looked similar on paper. At 10-4, both the Gators and the Rebels saw success in out of conference play.
However, both were also looking for an initial win in conference play.
Ole Miss lost handily to LSU on Sunday, 83-44. The Gators failed in their upset attempt against then-No. 6 Kentucky on Sunday, falling to the Wildcats 59-56.
It was Ole Miss dominating early, using its own inside tandem of Nikki Byrd and Courtney Marbra to capitalize on the Gators’ inability to rebound to open the game. The Rebels scored 11 of the game’s first 13 points, seemingly coming up with every loose ball.
The Gators responded from this early deficit with its own 13-0 run. Heading into the break, the Gators were up 37-28.
Offensively, it was the usual suspects for the Gators.
George had her seventh consecutive double-double for the Gators. The number of superlatives that can be said about her play this season are beginning to run short.
Although the Gators were outrebounded for the first time in the last 12 games, including losing the battle of points in the paint, George’s play on the blocks were once again the difference for the Gators.
While Ole Miss relied predominantly on their inside game, the success of George for the Gators opened up other outlets offensively for the team.
“I thought Jennifer was a big part of our win, she had a slow start and I felt she took a lot of contact and handled that with a lot of poise and composure and made big plays sometimes on her second shot when they blocked the first one,” head coach Amanda Butler said on the Gators Radio Network. “Whenever George shoots the ball well, that gives our whole team confidence.”
One of the other outlets, and the only other Gators player in double figures in scoring, was Jordan Jones. She connected on four more three-pointers for the Gators, often curtailing an Ole Miss run with a shot from deep.
Her final three, which gave her 18 points on the night, may have been her biggest.
With the Gators lead trimmed to just four points late in the second half, the Gators were able to get a stop defensively and get out on the fast break.
Jones pulled up from behind the line and buried a deep three to give the Gators a 58-51 lead.
Nikki Byrd and Valencia McFarland led Ole Miss offensively, with each scoring 13 points for the Rebels, who stayed close throughout the game.
However, the Gators were able to gain an important road victory by winning the most crucial possessions of the game.
“We just won. We can look at a lot of different things, but we just won,” Butler said. “We won the possessions that mattered most. I thought in some critical moments we came up with some big plays.”
It was not the prettiest win of the season for the Gators.
The Gators were outrebounded 43-37 and committed 18 turnovers with just 12 team assists. Certainly this was not the way coach Butler would have looked to draw up an ideal road victory, but it is a victory still the same.
“It’s certainly not how we drew it up, but that’s also what I mean by we just won,” Butler said. “We did what we had to do and a lot of times, especially on the road and definitely in the SEC, the best laid plans just don’t work. So then you have to go to Plan B and sometimes C.”
Tonight, Plans B and C were enough to get it done and earn a conference victory.
With conference play now in full swing, the Gators will be looking to win at home for the first time on Sunday. Things will not get any easier, as South Carolina will make its only visit to Gainesville on the year.
The Gamecocks, who enter the game with a 13-2 record, are fresh off a 65-55 win at home over No. 21 Vanderbilt.
Last season, the Gators won their only meeting with the Gamecocks in a tight contest at South Carolina, 65-63.
The first of the team’s two meetings this season is set to begin at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
You can follow Gator Country writer Phillip Heilman on Twitter at phillip_heilman.