Gators travel to Las Vegas for tourney

Florida makes its second road trip of the season, this time taking the 1,953-mile journey to compete in the South Point Thanksgiving Classic in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The Gators will play N.C. State (4-0) on Friday, Northern Iowa (2-1) on Saturday and Arizona State (0-2) on Sunday, with all games held at the South Point Arena.

While there won’t be any live video of the games, the radio broadcast of each Florida contest can be heard live in Gainesville on The Star 99.5 FM and through the internet for free at, the official website of the Florida Gators.

“This is a great tournament for us because it’s another opportunity for us to compete, get better and be together for such a wonderful holiday for everyone who has the blessing to live in our great country,” UF head coach Amanda Butler said. “A lot of our families are here in Las Vegas with us. More than anything, this week is a chance for us to grow.”

Friday’s game will be the second time this year the Gators (3-1) will play a team from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). Florida traveled to Tallahassee and lost its only game of the season, falling to instate rival Florida State, 98-67, on Nov. 15.

The Gators rebounded nicely from their first loss of the season with a commanding 74-44 win against North Florida on Nov. 19.

Redshirt-freshman Carlie Needles (Highlands Ranch, Col.) set a program-record with nine three-pointers, breaking the 20-year-old mark of eight held by Bridget Pettis on Jan. 20, 1993 against Georgia. The nine treys tied for the second-most in SEC history, as Needles became just the fifth SEC athlete to sink as many from long range.

Florida got off to a great start in the game against the Panthers, scoring 50 first-half points, the most since scoring 53 in the first half of the Dec. 20, 2010 Gator Holiday Classic matchup versus Alabama State.

While Needles certainly was the Gator’s star in the victory, several others produced solid efforts in the game, as Sydney Moss (Union, Ky.), Jaterra Bonds (Gainesville, Fla.) and Kayla Lewis (Decatur, Ga.) each recorded eight points, with Moss adding seven rebounds and seven assists, Bonds dishing four assists without a turnover and Lewis corralling six rebounds that helped Florida win the rebounding battle, 48-30.

Preseason Naismith Player of the Year candidate Jennifer George (Fresno, Calif.), who scored six points with seven rebounds and three steals against North Florida, leads the Gators overall in scoring with 15.0 per game and sharing team-high rebounding honors with Lewis at 8.0 per game. Bonds tallies 11.5 points and 4.0 assists per game, while Lewis adds 10.3 points with her rebounding haul. Thanks to her 27-point output against North Florida, Needles enters Friday’s game averaging 10.3 points.

Entering the season, only three current players had suited up with the Gators for an away game in the last two years, with senior George joining juniors Lily Svete and Jaterra Bonds with recent experience playing in hostile arenas. Redshirt-sophomore Kayla Lewis had not played a road game since Jan. 23, 2011 at LSU, as she missed the final 19 games of her freshman year while the three games she played last season prior to redshirting were at home.

The Gators are the fifth least experienced team in the country.

The South Point Thanksgiving Shootout will be the 13th time in program history that Florida will play at least three games in three days!

The Gators sport a 29-9 all-time record when playing at least three games in as many days.

The most recent time, however, was during the 1997-98 season (when current assistant coach Murriel Page was a Gator senior) and Florida played host to the two-day State Farm Classic and then entertained Hampton the following day (Dec. 28-29 & 30).

“We are only talking about one game so this is an opportunity for us coaches and the upperclassmen to show their teammates how to prepare,” Butler said. “We haven’t talked about playing any other team besides N.C. State. We’ve been practicing for N.C. State as if we’re only playing N.C. State this week.”

The Wolfpack are off to a 4-0 start, which includes an 85-71 win against Auburn on Nov. 10.

N.C. State is averaging an eye-popping 88.2 points per game this year and has yet to score fewer than 81 points in a game, which it did on Tuesday in an 81-54 victory against Charleston Southern. The Wolfpack are converting 49.4 percent of its shots, including a careful 36.2 percent from the three-point arc (25-69) and 69.8 percent from the free throw line (60-86).

“As you would expect, they are very well coached,” Butler said. “They haven’t lost yet and beat one of our SEC sisters in Auburn earlier this season. They play exceptionally hard. They are led by a couple of upperclassmen who have had solid ACC careers and I know they have certain aspirations for their season. (Coach) Kellie (Harper) does a great job with them. She’s one of my Tennessee home girls and someone I have a lot of respect for.

“They really run and do a great job of rebounding,” Butler continued. “They have great size on the inside and really just play hard and that’s the best way to describe them.”

Junior forward Kody Burke leads the ACC in scoring with 19.3 points per game, as she shoots 57.9 percent from the floor and 76.9 percent (10-13) from the free throw line. Burke also collects 8.3 rebounds per game, has blocked 10 shots in four games and has seven steals. Markeisha Gatling, a 6-5 junior, averages 10.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, while Marissa Kastanek tallied 15.0 points with a 37.5 percent clip from beyond the arc (9-24).

The Gators and Wolfpack are tied at 2-all in the four-game series. Florida won the most recent meeting, a 66-61 decision on Dec. 7, 2008, at the GlaxoSmithKline Invitational hosted by the Wolfpack in one of the last few games with the late-Hall of Fame coach Kay Yow on the sideline. N.C. State captured the game prior to that held on March 27, 2008, when the Wolfpack dominated the postseason WNIT third-round matchup.

Courtesy of UF Communications