Bonds’ return sparks Gators win

After missing their first seven shots and having to watch their starting point guard limp to the locker room early in the first half, the Florida Gators women’s basketball team faced adversity in the championship of the Gator Holiday Classic.

Despite the early adversity and a poor shooting night throughout, the Gators were able to win the tournament, downing the Dukes 62-49.

The win brings the Gators overall record to 9-3, while also grabbing their second consecutive Gator Holiday Classic championship trophy at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

A little more than two minutes into the game, Jaterra Bonds went up for a shot and came down on the foot of a Duquesne defender. The Gators’ starting point guard had to be helped off the court with an apparent ankle injury.

“When I went down to the floor, I said ‘Oh Lord, not again,’” Bonds said. “I just had to suck it up and come back.”

Come back she did.

A night after she was held to just six points, focusing more on getting teammates involved and finishing with nine assists, Bonds took more of the scoring load in this one. She was able to spark an otherwise quiet offense with seven points in the first half, and finished with 16 in the game.

The diversity she shows is something the team really benefits from, and also something she takes great pride in.

“Sometimes your shot is not falling and you have to take a different role,” Bonds said. “Each night I took a different role, you know. Last night I was dishing it out and tonight I was scoring.”

At the half, Bonds was the only Gators player with more than a single field goal. As a whole, the Gators had more turnovers (8) than field goals (7) in the first half.

UF coach Amanda Butler attributed many of the turnovers from the team forcing the ball inside, mostly in an attempt to feed Gator Holiday Classic Most Valuable Player Jennifer George.

“We were definitely disappointed at halftime, because of the turnovers in particular, and I think it’s one of the things that we’ve got to adjust to is George had really established herself very well on the low block and we’re doing a great job as guards in looking inside to her, but obviously defenses are adjusting,” Butler said. “We’ve got to be a little bit more discriminating on when to pass it into her.”

At the break, the Gators led 22-21 despite their poor play. They opened the second half on what became the decisive run of the game.

The Gators scored the first 11 points of the second half, opening up a 33-21 lead over Duquesne.

Then things got chippy.

Duquesne brought a tangible level of energy into the game. Their bench was loud from the start, and really fired up their team.

In an altogether frustrating game that saw the Dukes miss each of their 19 three-point shots, a level of physicality ensued.

Multiple times down the floor saw bodies from each team hit the floor. Jordan Jones got the worst of an exchange and also had to spend some time in the locker room.

“I get tossed around out there,” Jones said, bringing on laughter. “I’m fine. It’s nice to get a little breather and come back and finish the game off.”

To finish the game, the Gators once again keyed in on defense. A steady offense was not going to be had on this night, so a victory would only come from focusing even more on the other end of the floor.

“Offense is going to come and go, and one thing you can depend on every night is defense,” Jones said. “That’s effort and that’s pride.”

The Dukes were able to close the margin to just five points late in the second half, but the Gators could taste a championship. Playing on back-to-back nights, they had just enough in the tank to secure the win.

“In the huddle with Jordan and Azania we were like ‘we’re not going to lose this game’, I think we were up by five points with seven minutes, we were not going to lose this game,” Bonds said. “We said we’ve got to dig in and that’s what we did.”

Jordan Jones led the way for the Gators with 18 points, followed by Jaterra Bonds with 16 and Jennifer George with 15.

For George, her 15 points and 13 rebounds gave her a double-double in her fourth consecutive game. She is the first Gator to achieve the feat since Vanessa Hayden had five consecutive double-doubles in the 2003-2004 season.

For their efforts, each of the three girls was named to the Gator Holiday Classic All-Tournament Team. Orsi Szecsi of Duquesne and Rachell Coward of Charleston Southern rounded out the All-Tournament squad.

Despite the team not playing at its best, shooting under 40 percent from the field and turning the ball over 14 times, being able to find a win was something coach Butler took great pride in.

“Really proud of the way we played, Duquesne is a very, very good team, a very well-coached team, a team that is definitely a contender in the A-10. It was a big win for us for a lot of reasons,” she said. “It wasn’t the prettiest of ballgames, this is something that we talked a lot about in the locker room, I think that you always look at things and wish you had done this better or that better or whatever.

“But you also look at a win like this over an opponent like this, playing the way we did, and you get excited because you know your best basketball is ahead of you.”

What is directly ahead for the Gators is a one-week break before hosting Samford at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. The game will be the last for the Gators in the 2011 calendar year and is also the final non-conference game for the Gators.

The Gators open their conference schedule at home on New Year’s Day against Kentucky at 1 p.m.

Until then, the team will enjoy the holiday season, Butler said.

“Excited to be able to call ourselves champions tonight and to be able to go home for a couple of days and celebrate with families and come back and get back to work.”

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