Women’s hoops wins SEC Tourney opener

The Florida women’s basketball team has suffered some tough losses during the season, but it delivered the loss Thursday afternoon.

The No. 8-seeded Gators won their fourth straight game after beating No. 9-seeded Arkansas 68-59 in the first round of the SEC tournament in Nashville, Tenn.

The Gators will take on No. 1 seed Tennessee in the second round at Bridgestone Arena on Friday.

Five players scored in double-digits for the Gators, including forward Ndidi Madu who notched a double-double just 10 minutes away from her hometown, with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

“I was excited the SEC tournament was here,” Madu said. “I just wanted to be aggressive coming into the game.

Florida started the game on fire, making its first eight shots and held the largest lead of the game at 17 points in the game’s first 10 minutes.

But Arkansas came back with a 17-0 run of its own, led by junior guard Lyndsay Harris, who made four 3-pointers during the stretch. She led the Razorbacks with 18 points going 6-for-9 from three-point range, but left the game with 1:30 left after suffering a right knee injury.

“I think once Lyndsay Harris got hot on the three-point line, that got our whole team going,” Razorbacks leading scorer C’eira Ricketts said. “We feed off her. We feed off each other.”

The Razorbacks tied the game at 28 with 6:08 left in the first half when Chrisstasia Walter came up with a steal after colliding knee-to-knee with Gators point guard Lanita Bartley while bringing the ball up-court.

The Gators turned the ball over nine times during that stretch after just giving up one turnover during their hot streak.

Florida ended the half on an 8-0 run, which included a three pointer from junior guard Jordan Jones, giving her 1,000 points for her career. 

“I had no idea until they told me in the locker room,” Jones said. “It’s special, but it’s even more special it happened in a win.”

Jones scored all 11 of her points in the first half, including three baskets from behind the arc.

The Gators extended their halftime lead of 43-33 by making their first two baskets at the start of the second period.

But poor shooting and ball-handling hurt Florida as Harris, Ricketts and Arkansas forward Quistelle Williams had their way with the Gators on both ends of the floor.

Williams, who averaged just 2.4 points per game coming into the SEC tournament, scored a season-high 13 points off the Razorbacks’ bench, including two three-pointers.

As for Ricketts, the junior guard put plenty of pressure on Bartley resulting in three steals after the ten-minute mark in the second half. Bartley was taken out of the game with 5:21 left and never returned.

The Razorbacks tied the game at 59 with 3:00 left in the game after a pair of made free throws by Rickets, but could not convert afterwards down the stretch.

Jones took a charge against Rickets with 2:31 left in the game, which proved to be the dagger for Arkansas’ offense.

“It was a huge play,” Jones said. “It was definitely in my mind, somebody had to step up and make a play. It just happened to be me.”

Sophomore forward Jennifer George scored the next five points for the Gators, who will play a Tennessee team that went undefeated in SEC play during the season.

“Obviously, they’re a great team. It’s going to be a tough challenge,” Jones said. “I think we’re a lot different team than we were even two weeks ago. We’re a much more confidant team. We’re playing aggressive. We’re playing our best basketball right now.”

Coach Amanda Butler agreed with Jones’ statement adding the Gators made some strides defensively when they held the Volunteers to their third lowest point total of the season on Feb. 10.

“We want to be a championship program,” Butler said. “There’s one way to become a championship program that’s real certain in this league, and that’s you have to go through Tennessee.”

Etc: The Gators won several battles during the game including points in the paint (32-14), second chance points (13-3) and fast break points (8-2). The Gators also outrebounded Arkansas 43-40… Former Gators standout and current assistant coach Murriel Page was honored at halftime at the game as UF’s 2011 honoree. Page, who played from 1994-1998, is the Gators all-time leader in points, rebounds, double-doubles and games played.