Special report on the Florida Gators women’s basketball team
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – For the fourth time this season, the No. 22 Florida Gators stunned a top-15 opponent, battling back from an eight-point deficit to upset No. 12/11 Texas A&M, 83-81, on Thursday (Feb. 4) at the O’Connell Center.
Florida (19-4, 7-3 SEC) was led by junior small forward Ronni Williams, who became the first Gator in over eight years to score at least 20 points and grab 15 rebounds in a game.
Junior guard Simone Westbrook added 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting, while sophomore guard Dyandria Anderson made some of the night’s biggest shots en route to a 12-point outing.
How It Happened
After a closely-contested first half which saw the Gators respond to every Texas A&M (15-7, 5-4 SEC) run, they faced an eight-point deficit (49-41) at the 5:11 mark of the third quarter. It was the first time all night it felt as though the Aggies were truly pulling away.
But, much like the opening two stanzas, Florida answered. Over the final five-plus minutes, the Gators outscored the Aggies 24-11, and rattled off a 13-2 run over the final 2:11 of the quarter.
During that game-changing stretch, Eleanna Christinaki and Ronni Williams scored five points apiece, while Dyandria Anderson drained a pair of threes, one of which gave Florida a 57-56 lead with 90 seconds remaining in the quarter. Simone Westbrook scored the Gators’ final five points of the frame, including a buzzer-beating three from nearly four feet behind the arc.
The Gators didn’t just protect their 65-60 lead-which, at the time, was their largest of the night-they expanded it. Florida turned the volume up on defense, creating turnover after turnover and flustering the Aggies and eventually establishing a seven-point advantage at the 6:21 mark of the fourth.
Texas A&M strung together a rally of its own, retaking the lead, 79-77, with 2:37 left before Christinaki drained a game-tying jumper. Two freebies from Christinaki and a jumper by Westbrook at the 1:02 mark made it a four-point Gators lead (83-79).
The Aggies had two attempts to win or tie the game in the final 30 seconds, but both shots were off the mark.
Texas A&M’s Courtney Walker led all scorers with 31 points.
Florida vs. Texas A&M Series History
* This is Florida’s first-ever victory over Texas A&M, as it entered the night with an 0-4 record against the Aggies
* Eleanna Christinaki, Haley Lorenzen, Carlie Needles, Simone Westbrook, Ronni Williams
News and Numbers of Note
* The 2015-16 Gators join the 1996-97 and 2000-01 teams as the only clubs in program history to defeat four top-15 opponents in a season.
* Ronni Williams is the first Gator since Marshae Dotson (Nov. 23, 2007 vs. Florida State) to finish a game with at least 20 points and 15 rebounds.
* The Gators became the first team since Oklahoma (Jan. 17, 2001) to defeat Texas A&M when it scored at least 81 points.
* Florida has trailed by at least seven points in 11 of its 19 wins this season.
* Florida’s 52 points in the second half tied its fifth-highest total in a half this season; and marked the 14th time this season it scored at least 45 points in a half.
* UF’s 19-4 overall record is the third-best in program history, trailing only the 21-2 mark of the 2008-09 and 2000-01 teams.
Quotes from the Court
Florida Head Coach Amanda Butler
“An awesome team win today with contributions all the way down the roster in different ways. I saw a lot of heart and a lot of hustle out there. Big players continued to make key plays in crucial moments. Credit to Texas A&M; they’re a fantastic team and I like to think this is another indication of how good our team is. This is obviously a great way to go into our bye week. I’m exceptionally proud of the way we rebounded in the second half. We didn’t do as good of a job as we would have liked initially, but we turned that around later on in the game.
“Ronni Williams was a monster in the second half. In addition, Tyshara Fleming got all of her points off the glass in the second half as well. I could talk about every single kid on this box score because every one of them contributed to this win. Whether it was tonight, in practice, or through the energy they brought from the bench.”
On the team’s depth down the bench…
“It’s been one of our storylines all year long, and it’s exciting. I’m sure it’s not exciting for our opponents, however. From their standpoint, how can you prepare for how the way Dyandria shot the ball tonight? Or how well Simone has played in her past few games as an offensive threat? We’re not just a one-headed monster, and we have great belief in one another.”
On this team’s ability to bounce back from deficits…
“One of the gifts on this team is our ability to play through our mistakes. How many times have we dug ourselves holes and been able to get ourselves out of those spots? Credit to the leaders on this team for hanging in there during those moments. When things don’t go our way, we can play without fear and keep the energy focused in a positive direction.”
On next Thursday’s game at South Carolina…
“As we approach the bye week, we’ll take a few days off. We need to let our players recover for a bit. As hard as they play and as had as they’ve been working these past few weeks … we’ll get back in the gym and put up some shots and keep putting in those extra free throws. We get a few days off, but we’ll get back to it come Sunday and be ready for South Carolina. It’s going to be a great game between two very talented teams within the best league in the country.”
Florida Junior Guard Simone Westbrook
On energy changes throughout the third quarter…
“Going into the third quarter, we felt the momentum was ours for a bit. We just kind of kept riding that wave of energy and momentum into the fourth quarter.”
On her buzzer-beating three at the end of the third quarter…
“It’s something I practice at the end of every practice. I had the ball and a good look at the hoop, and it felt good as I released it.”
Texas A&M Head Coach Gary Blair
“We just couldn’t finish tonight. It was just like when we were at South Carolina when we were up five at the half. We did a lot of good things tonight, but got beat on the offensive boards because Florida’s athletes are more athletic than ours. They were going up tough in the crowd and getting the tough rebound. Boxing out in the SEC, fundamentals does not get it done. You have go up and demand the ball and get the ball. There are going to be missed shots because the defense is pretty good on both teams. The first half we made them switch from zone to man and then we cut them up in our man offense, particularly with Walker. We had our chances.”
“Florida, early in the year, they were picked 12th. Coach Butler did a gutsy thing and benched her two seniors, who she was losing with. She put junior college kids in the starting lineup, and a freshman. A lot of coaches don’t do that, because when you do that you hear from the coaches back home. If you don’t make the NCAA Tournament, that’s what you have to do. You have to figure out what it takes to win. She now has Miller and Peoples as the sixth man, coming off the bench. She doesn’t need to change her starting lineup, because it is really effective.”
“Westbrook was huge for (Florida) in this ball game. We couldn’t stop her right-hand drive. (Christinaki), we shut out in the first half, I don’t know if we did or it was that she just wasn’t moving enough. At the same time, she penetrated the whole night long and we gave the right-hand drive to her. Lorenzen got loose on some garbage shots. Williams is one of the top-10 players in our league. She could do that every night. If she can stay out of foul trouble, just think what she could do with 40 minutes.”
Senior Guard Courtney Walker
On the frustration of tonight’s game…
“I think, in the first half, I had some good shots, especially in the first quarter. I think the whole game I continued to get open shots, so I was taking them and trying to hit or trying to find other people.”
On Florida’s second-half defensive adjustments…
“They started using their hands. They didn’t go to box and one or anything. They were just putting their hands really close to the face. Besides that, there wasn’t really much besides that they went zone in the second half. We weren’t able to score as much in the second half.”