Women’s hoops struggles continue

Different lineup. Different opponent. Different jerseys. Same results. The Florida Gators lost another competitive game but this time to the No. 15 Georgia Bulldogs 61-56.

Another poor first half performance caused the Gators (11-6, 1-3) to play catch-up in the second half. After a 15-point performance in the first half against South Carolina last Sunday, the Gators could only move uphill. Against Georgia (14-3, 3-1), the Gators scored only 16 first-half points and trailed 29-16 at halftime.

“They put up a great fight,” Florida coach Amanda Butler said after the game. “I know our team is so frustrated from playing such tremendous second half when they overcome so much because they play so poorly in the first half. We just have to get better the first 20 minutes of the game.”

Florida can’t expect to win games, let alone in the tough Southeastern Conference, if the Gators only put up 15 or 16 points in the first 20 minutes; no matter what they do in the second half.

Butler instilled a slightly different lineup by starting senior forward Ndidi Madu over senior center Azania Stewart. Stewart was only averaging more than five points and 5.5 rebounds a game.

Even though she finished with four points and three rebounds, Madu’s presence was felt from the first shot of the game; she dribbled, stepped back and nailed a 15-foot jumper.

At the end of the first half, the Gators were an ineffective 1-of-16 beyond the arc. They finished 5-of-25 from three-point range, 6-for-11 from the free throw line and 33 percent field goal shooting overall. Florida actually had 24 more shots than Georgia, but could not capitalize.

Somehow, Florida found itselves only down four points with 2:30 remaining in the second half.

Georgia passed the ball inbounds to Jasmine James, who took the ball down the court. Florida’s Lanita Bartley went in and got the steal and passed it right to Jordan Jones, who then looked for Jennifer George in the paint.

George got the ball, and she took one step — and then another.

A whistle was blown.

George didn’t dribble and was called for traveling. As she put her head down, she knew Florida’s chance to be in the game just passed by.

Including that crucial travel, the Gators finished with a season-high 23 turnovers, a statistic Butler isn’t happy about, especially against a nationally ranked team like Georgia.

When Florida got close to tying it, Georgia was always able to pull away. Even climbing back from a margin of 13 points to four, Georgia never let the lead slip.

“Georgia’s level of urgency and determination went up near the end of the second half,” said Butler.

One of the key players of that determination was junior guard Anne Marie Armstrong, who was clutch in the closing minutes of the game. Armstrong came in with an impressive 79 percent free throw conversion and after tonight’s 8-of-8 showing from the line, her statistics will continue to rise.

“She (Armstrong) is good and just a good ball player,” Coach Butler said. “She played a great ball game.”

Armstrong finished with 19 points and six rebounds.

The only high note after the game for the Gators was George’s performance. She finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, but was not able to keep her consecutive double-double streak going. After the game, George ended the streak with eight consecutive double-doubles and averaging 15.8 points per game and 11.8 rebounds per game during the streak.

The Gators will have a chance bounce back Sunday against an LSU (13-3, 4-0) team that is undefeated in the conference so far. They’ll need a complete-game effort to reverse the trend.

“We need to have a better first half,” Butler said. “You aren’t going to beat an SEC team with 16 points in the first 20 minutes of a ball game.”

Max Mattern covers women’s basketball and other sports for Gator Country. Follow him on Twitter @Max_Mattern.