Women’s hoops set to host FSU

The Florida women’s basketball team will renew a fierce in-state rivalry against Florida State on Thursday at 5:30 p.m at the O’Connell Center.

Florida (1-1, 0-0) is coming off of its win of the season against Stetson.  The Gators won 71-57 after a dominating and career-high tying 21 point performance by Jennifer George.  UF will face a stronger opponent in a No. 19/21 Florida State (2-1, 0-0) team that got stunned by Arkansas on Sunday in a 52-55 loss.

Like their last game, the Gators seem to be focused on dominating in the paint.  Their recent 46-point performance in the paint against the Hatters might not come as easily with the likes of Cierra Bravard and Natasha Howard standing in their way.

“Bravard is a very good player and is big,” Florida senior center Azania Stewart said. “You have to try to do the little things like run the floor and box her out.  The same as Howard, she runs the floor too.”

Bravard is a preseason First Team All-American and a preseason All-ACC First Team member.  She is averaging 11.2 points per game. Bravard has had 24 consecutive double-figure scoring games dating back to December 21, 2010, and looks to continue that streak against the Gators.

Florida’s guard Jordan Jones understands the importance of Thursday’s game.

“Obviously there’s a lot riding on this game,” Jones said. “(Florida State) being a ranked team and being at home again in front of our fans.  It’s a doubleheader with the men, so we are expecting a big crowd.

“It’s FSU, and coach Butler said yesterday, ‘if you don’t get excited to play FSU then there’s something wrong with you.’ There’s nothing for her to say to motivate us. You know we’re ready to play FSU and show them who we are.”

Jones is leading the Gators averaging 15.0 points per game, and she can flash her dangerous three-point shot at any time during the game to give a spark to the team.

The senior knows the last two games against FSU have been heartbreakers for the Gators.

“We know we’ve learned that you are not always going to get that call you want,” Jones said. “It’s not always going to come to that last possession, but it’s what you do in between, so we really need to take advantage of every possession or it’ll come back to bite us.”

Florida guard Jaterra Bonds, a Gainesville native, knows the rivalry between these two teams is huge.

“It means a lot,” Bonds said, “Every time Florida State came here to play, even when I was still in high school, it was such a big thing.  It’s a little extra special.”

Florida head coach Amanda Butler knows about close games.  Last year, Florida lost seven of its games by at least six points or less, including a 74-72 loss to FSU.

“We came into this season sick and tired of losing close games,” Butler said, “This group knows how to win games as oppose to playing not to lose or folding under pressure. We’ve lost two years in a row, and we are kind of tired of it.  So we are ready to turn the tides.”

Butler knows that playing a ranked opponent, especially Florida State, will be no walk-in-the-park. 

“It’s a giant challenge. It’s one of those games that year to year it doesn’t really matter who’s favored, who’s more experienced, or who’s bigger; none of those things seem to come in play,” Butler said. “It’s one of the greatest rivalries in sports. We have had two great days of preparation for a program we have a ton of respect for. (FSU coach) Sue (Semrau) does a great job.  They are a top-25 program and certainly a postseason team. We know that it’s going to be a great challenge.

“At the end of the day, though, it’s the Gators versus the ‘Noles so we’re excited to play.”

Gator Country reporter Max Mattern can be reached at .