Lady Bulldogs’ defense smothers Gators

The game was supposed to be a barometer, a gauge to measure the progress of a promising basketball program.

The outlook before tip-off was sunny, but moments after the buzzer sounded following an 82-55 defeat Thursday night, the forecast for Florida women’s basketball appeared a bit cloudy.

“I’m disappointed,” UF coach Amanda Butler said. “There weren’t a lot of positives for us. There are a lot of things we can learn from, hopefully. In SEC play, if you don’t come ready to play, you’re going to get embarrassed because you’re playing against the nation’s best.”

The Lady Bulldogs came, they saw, and they conquered. UGA dominated with its trademark defense, stifling man-to-man pressure that held Florida to a season low of 30.2 percent from the field before 2,613 fans at the O’Connell Center.

The Gators shot 23.3 percent in the first half and tallied just 21 points by halftime. Georgia, which scampered to a 20-2 run early, led 43-21 at the break and stretched its advantage to 30 points or more much of the second half.

“They’re very aggressive,” Butler said. “At Georgia, defense is what they’re known for. Defensive pressure is one of coach (Andy) Landers’ trademarks. In some of the games in which they’ve faltered this season, they didn’t seem to have that same sort of edge, but now it seems like they’ve got it together. They’re aggressive and confident on the defensive end. Those are things that, to this point, I thought that we had displayed. We were back on our heels tonight, not up on our toes. They expected to make plays, and they expected to take the ball out of our hands. They were physical tonight, and usually that’s a positive for us, but we didn’t rise to the challenge.”

The Bulldogs got points from inside and outside. Ashley Houts, the 5-foot-6 point guard, had career-high 25 points, six assists and six rebounds. Tasha Humphrey, the star 6-3 forward contributed 23 points and eight rebounds.

Houts, who logged 37 minutes, finished 8 of 16 from the field, including 3-for-3 from the 3-point line. Not only was she efficient, she was effective.

“Incredible,” Georgia coach Andy Landers said. “Basketball is a game of opportunity. I have a son that’s a senior in high school, and about every other game we have a discussion after he plays because he doesn’t understand why he didn’t get touches or shots. He’s like everybody else. It’s about opportunity. You get shots when you can get shots and there’s nights when people guard you and maybe coaches don’t run something that prevents shots for you. What Ashley did tonight was take advantage of the opportunities. She found the gaps and found the seam. She got the ball deep and laid it up and when she was left open on the perimeter she spotted up and shot it very, very well. Again she handled the pressure because they came after her when she had the ball and tried to keep her from getting the ball. It was just a great performance.”

Florida, which generated a season-low six assists, got 18 points off the bench from sophomore guard Brittaney Thomas. No one else came close to cracking double figures.

Marshae Dotson and Aneika Henry, Florida’s two primary interior players, combined for seven points on 2-for-8 shooting. Henry, UF’s only starter taller than 6 feet, took just two shots and did not score.

Georgia relied on its superior size to control the interior. The Lady Bulldogs, who have six players 6-foot-1 or taller, shot better than 50 percent each half. Defensively, they contested nearly every shot with long arms and quick feet.

“I thought we were really spectacular,” Landers said. “I don’t think I could ask for any more. We had breakdowns, but you’re not going to play perfect. That’s about as well as you could ask those kids to play. One thing about our defense, it’s one thing to play hard and play well.  It’s another to play hard and play well for 40 minutes. That was the most impressive piece. We never let up. We stayed the course. That impressed me.”

Florida’s offensive struggles started early. The Gators managed just one field goal over a 16-possession stretch during a forgettable first half. UF missed on 14 of its first 17 shots.

The win was Landers’ 700th of his career as the No. 17 Lady Bulldogs inched their record to 16-3 overall and 3-2 in the SEC.

“They all didn’t come against Florida, did they?” Landers said with a smile. “Is it 700 overall or 700 against Florida?”

For the record, Georgia has won eight straight against the Gators, who have lost 12 consecutive games against ranked foes.

“You know, you just come out and play and do one game at a time,” Landers said. “You get over it and you move on. I don’t really think about it like that. I think Florida’s a good basketball team. I enjoy watching them play on tape. I thought they play with great energy. They do what they do well. There are nights that we what we do we do well. There are nights when we don’t do things well. Tonight was one of those nights where we did it at the ‘A’ level.”

Florida, which dropped to 13-6 and 2-2 in league play, visits South Carolina on Sunday, but not before a bit of reflection.

“It’s very disappointing, but we just have to stay positive in practice and bounce back,” senior guard Depree Bowden said. “We just couldn’t get an offensive flow early. We just have to bounce back for South Carolina. We have to have two good days of practice for South Carolina. Like coach said, we still have a lot of games left. But don’t get me wrong, this game is very disappointing, but we just have to bounce back.”