UF eliminated from SEC tourney by Lady Vols

Before Friday’s game against Tennessee, Florida women’s basketball coach Amanda Butler said her team was playing better than it has in previous matchups against the Lady Vols.

This time around, the Gators yielded the same result.

In their third meeting of the season, the No. 1-seeded Volunteers (29-2, 16-0 SEC) eliminated the No. 8-seeded Gators (18-14, 7-9 SEC) in the second round of the SEC tournament with a 92-75 win.

The Gators’ output was just four points shy of the 79 total points they scored in their previous two games against the Volunteers this season. 

Although the Gators used a 7-0 run to cut the lead down to nine with 2:37 left in the game, they had no answers for Tennessee forwards Glory Johnson and SEC player of the year Shekinna Stricklen, as the duo combined for 45 points and 18 rebounds.

Johnson notched career-highs with 25 points and 11 made free throws, while grabbing six of her 11 rebounds on the offensive end.

“Obviously really, really proud of our fight tonight,” Butler said. “However, we didn’t just come here to put up a good fight. We’re disappointed we lost.”

The Gators started the contest playing aggressive defense which led to easy points in transition, but Tennessee’s pressure defense disrupted Florida’s flow after the first nine minutes. The Lady Vols went on a 12-4 run, stretching to their largest lead of the first half by 11.

“Our press shook them a little bit,” Johnson said. “They kind of caught on through the rest of the game throwing long passes. I still think it shook them up a little bit.”

The Gators ended the first half on a 12-3 run and went into intermission down 38-36, led by guards Lanita Bartley, Deana Allen and forward Ndidi Madu. The trio went 11-for-20 from the field scoring nine points each in the first half.

“It gave us a lot of confidence,” Allen said. “For us to be (down) only two points against one of the best teams in our league, it really gave us a lot more confidence than we already had.”

That confidence diminished at the start of the second half.

Tennessee came out of intermission making its first five baskets, including Johnson making the first three.

“We didn’t come out with the same intensity in the second half, and that was our fault,” Madu said.

Things went downhill for Florida with 11:37 left in the game as center Azania Stewart and forward Jennifer George committed their fourth and fifth fouls within the next two minutes. The two combined for just four points and nine rebounds in 31 combined minutes.

Madu, who was playing just ten minutes away from her hometown, also fouled out with 5:22 left in the game, finishing with 13 points and three rebounds.

Without their three biggest assets in the paint, the Gators trailed by as much as 18 in the second half, and lost the points in the paint battle 50-30.

“Certainly, it’s a challenge right from the tip,” Butler said. “But when we’re playing the last 10 minutes or so without the kids that play the bulk of the minutes for us in the paint, it becomes an even greater challenge.”

Florida will most likely not make the NCAA tournament after suffering two four-game losing streaks this season, but can expect to see action in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament, which starts on March 16.

“We feel we’re playing our best basketball right now,” Butler said. “We hope we get the opportunity to show that we’re one of the best teams in the country.”