No Jones, no problem for Florida

Florida’s women’s basketball team ended a 16-year drought Thursday night, winning its first game in Baton Rouge, La., since 1996.

The trio of Lanita Bartley, Ndidi Madu and Azania Stewart each had 12 points, and the Gators beat the Lady Tigers 73-64.

With the win, the Gators (14-8, 4-5) swept the season series against LSU. The Gators are now tied with LSU for seventh place in the SEC, just a game back in the loss column of Georgia, Vanderbilt and Arkansas.

“This was a total team effort in every way, starting with the way we prepared,” head coach Amanda Butler said on the Gators Radio Network. “The mindset our team had in practice and not being discouraged when it would be real easy coming off that disappointment at Arkansas to linger. Throw on top of that a little extra adversity in not having Jordan Jones available tonight, this win couldn’t be better.”

With Jones out after suffering a concussion in the loss to Arkansas, the Gators needed a strong performance from their available players.

Offensively, Ndidi Madu was the first to step up in the absence of Jones. She scored all 12 of her points in the first half.

For Madu, her share of the offensive load has continued to increase after being inserted into the starting lineup during conference play. Her added athleticism on both sides of the ball continues to spark the Gators.

Azania Stewart picked up where Madu left off, scoring 10 of her 12 points in the second half. She also collected 10 rebounds to finish with her first double-double of the season.

“Azania’s play was huge; Ndidi’s play was huge,” Butler said. “Our seniors, collectively, were great. It’s hard to single out one or two players because it really was a team effort.”

For a team that has struggled to play 40 minutes of “Florida Basketball,” Thursday was a positive in many ways.

The team was able to shake off the devastating loss to Arkansas and finish the three-game road trip on a positive note.

Also, the Gators were able to avoid falling into a lull for any particular part of the game. Florida outscored LSU 33-24 in the first half, with each team scoring 40 in the second half.

Adrienne Webb, of LSU, led all scorers in the game with 19 points. Despite Webb’s high-scoring effort, the Lady Tigers failed to find consistent offense.

While the Gators also struggled to score for stretches of the game, coach Butler spoke about the team being more focused on the defensive end than if their shots were falling.

Overall, she was pleased with the effort.

“We had so much more focus on playing great defense than we did hitting shots,” she said. “We just weren’t as concerned about that. We just were concerned with our defensive effort and executing that plan.”

Thursday night, the plan worked. The Gators were able to collect a sorely needed win, keeping the team in contention for a top spot in the conference.

Having now finished the longest road trip of the season, the Gators return home. On Sunday, the Gators will host Ole Miss at 2 p.m.

At just 2-8 in the conference and 12-11 overall, Ole Miss finds itself ahead of just Alabama in the conference standings. They have lost five consecutive games, the last four by double digits.

The Gators head toward what is seemingly a softer part of the schedule. Following Ole Miss on Sunday, the team will host Auburn next Thursday night.

Auburn is currently just 3-7 in the conference.

While any team is capable of beating another on a given night, the Gators seemingly have a strong chance of getting over .500 in the conference this week.

In all, it was a tough road trip for the Gators. However, they can smile for one night.

Then it is back to work.

Follow Gator Country reporter Phillip Heilman on Twitter @phillip_heilman.