Women’s hoops season ends in WNIT 3rd round

In its second game of the season, the Florida women’s basketball team eliminated Charlotte from the preseason WNIT in Gainesville.

Thursday night, Charlotte served up some revenge on their home court.

The Gators gave up a 17-point lead in the second half and lost to the 49ers 81-77 in overtime, ending their chance to win a championship in the third round of the postseason WNIT at Halton Arena. 

Florida (20-15) shot well from the field, finishing the game at 42.9 percent, but turning the ball over 22 times versus Charlotte’s 12 was the difference.

“Our turnovers were the story of the game,” coach Amanda Butler said. “We fought hard and looked really, really good in some stretches and then we would give it right back to them. We just coughed the ball up way too much to beat a good team on its home court.”

The Gators went into halftime up 43-31 and made its first two baskets in the second half on two fast break possessions to extend to the biggest lead of the contest at 48-31.

Then senior guard Shannon McCallum led the comeback for Charlotte (26-9) scoring 18 of her 25 points during a 22-3 run as the 49ers took the lead at 53-51 with 10:48 left in the contest.

After multiple ties and lead changes, The Gators made a late push at the 2:40 mark when they retook the lead at 69-67 after consecutive lay-ups by forward Jennifer George and SEC All-Freshman guard Jaterra Bonds.

But McCallum struck again, hitting a three and a fast break lay-up to give the 49ers a 72-69 advantage with 1:03 left in regulation.

After a Florida timeout, Bonds hit a three to tie the game with 51 seconds left in regulation. Charlotte had two opportunities to put Florida away but misses by Gabby Tyler and McCallum sent the game into overtime where both teams started out dry.

Florida center Azania Stewart hit the period’s first basket in the paint with 2:51 left on the clock and Charlotte countered with a layup from Tyler tying the game at 74.

The Gators retook the lead with a Jordan Jones’ three with 1:18 left, but that was Florida’s last basket as McCallum responded with a three of her own.

Florida ended the game with Bonds turning the ball over twice, resulting in two Charlotte lay-ups that sealed it for the 49ers.

“We knew she was going to take big shots and make big plays, and we just didn’t do a good job of being aware in the most crucial moments,” Butler said of McCallum, who also tallied nine rebounds and six assists.

Coming into the contest, Butler and several Florida players said they were playing their best basketball of the season.

In their last eight games, the Gators went 6-2 and had big wins against Vanderbilt, Georgia, and ended Florida Gulf Coast’s 42-game home winning streak.

“I think this is a great indication of where we’re headed,” Butler said. “We have great momentum going into next year and we have virtually the entire team returning.

“We made great strides from the beginning of the season to where we are right now. We have a lot to build on and that’s where our thoughts have to be, dwelling on the positive and spring boarding into the future.”