UF women’s hoops falls to Vanderbilt

Senior Jennifer George (Fresno, Calif.) and freshman Sydney Moss (Union, Ky.) recorded double-doubles, but Florida was unable to overcome a sluggish first half and lost to Vanderbilt, 68-57, on Thursday night at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

Despite an energetic rally to start the second half when the Gators erased a 26-15 halftime deficit by scoring the first 12 points to take the lead, Florida’s defensive efforts and late scoring spree were not enough to help the Gators (15-12, 4-9 SEC), who lost their third consecutive game.

“Well obviously, we’re very disappointed, not only to lose in just the way that we played,” UF head coach Amanda Butler said. “It’s very hard for me to understand the way that we played the first half of basketball. I’m just not sure, not sure strategically how I can impact that and that’s a hard pill to swallow.

“Great second half effort but when you play such a lackluster first half against a good team, which Vanderbilt is a good team,” Butler continued. “I give them a lot of credit for fighting through all the adversity that they faced this year. Mel (Balcomb, Vanderbilt coach) does a great job; they’re very well coached and we just didn’t come out the first 20 minutes with the level of fight that you have to play with against a team like that in February. It’s got to be all laid on the line and we just didn’t do that.”

Scoring a team-high 15 points and 10 rebounds, Moss led the charge with the second double-double of her career and was one of two Gators to score in double-figure, as George scored 13 points and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds to post her eighth double-double of the season and the 27th of her career, while also dishing four assists and collecting a game-high four steals. The double-double was George’s first since initially dislocating her shoulder during the Jan. 7 game against LSU.

After shooting 26.9 percent on 7-of-26 shooting from the field and committing 12 turnovers in the first half, Florida turned things up in the second by almost doubling their shooting percentage and cutting their turnovers down to five.

The Gators came out of the locker room on fire, going on a 12-0 run to take the lead for the first time since early in the first half and make it a 27-26 game.

With 15:40 left to play, the Commodores (17-9, 7-6 SEC) were finally able to halt the spree with a quick layup inside the paint. It couldn’t stop Florida’s energy, as redshirt-freshman Carlie Needles (Highlands Ranch, Colo.) hit a 3-pointer in the following possession and extended Florida’s lead to 30-28.

Following a few misses by Florida, Vanderbilt finally was able to score and tied the game with 13:41 left. The Gators answered back with another layup by George to make it 32-30 and take what would be their last lead of the night.

The Commodores then went on a 9-0, took the lead and never lost it again. With 7:40 left to play, the Gators closed up on Vanderbilt’s lead and made it a two-point game after a Moss assist led to a score by redshirt sophomore Kayla Lewis (Decatur, Ga.) to cut the deficit down to 43-41.

A foul on Christin Mercer (Douglasville, Ga.), however, stopped any chance of the Gators making the comeback as it sent the Southeastern Conference’s top free throw shooting team to the line.

Florida never threatened again and Vanderbilt was able to extend its lead to 12 points with 3:05 left to play, and seal the win from the free throw line where they connected on 16-of-22 during the game, including 7-of-8 in the final 58 seconds to seal the victory.

Tiffany Clarke scored a game-high 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the floor and 6-of-10 from the line for Vanderbilt, which hit 65 percent (13-20) during the second half and 53.3 percent overall (24-45). Jasmine Lister contributed 16 points with four assists and three steals, as she connected on 4-of-6 three-point attempts.

A slew of turnovers overshadowed a great defensive performance by the Gators in the first half. Vanderbilt came out in a hurry and opened up the game with an early jumper and a layup, but Florida was quick to respond and tie it at 4-all.

After both teams added two more points, the Gators then took their first lead of the game with a jumper by Moss at the 14:29 mark. Six turnovers by the Gators in ensuring possessions allowed Vanderbilt to go on an 8-0 run to take a six point lead with 7:56 left to play in the first half.

George ended the scoring drought for the Gators with a jumper inside the paint with 7:37 left and then again with 6:01 left to cut Vanderbilt’s lead to two points.

A foul on redshirt-junior Lily Svete (Granger, Ind.) however, cut short the Gators’ momentum and sent the Commodores to the charity line to shoot two. After making both free throws, the Commodores shot one from beyond the arc and extended their lead to 12-19 and making it a seven-point game.

The Gators were finally able to get on the board when a foul on Vanderbilt sent George to the free throw line where she made one and brought the lead down to six. The Commodores didn’t stay quiet for long and responded with a layup with 4:30 left in the first half to make it 21-13.

After two more turnovers by Florida and one by Vanderbilt, the Gators were finally able to break out of their slump and score on a play by George. These would be Florida’s last points of the half as Vanderbilt went on 5-0 run to close out the first half and take an 11-point lead into the break.

The Gators hit just 26.9 percent (7-26) from the floor during the opening 20 minutes, while the Commodores sank a steady 44 percent (11-25). Surprisingly, Florida held the 21-13 rebounding edge in the first half, but Vanderbilt held the 32-29 advantage by the end of the game.

The Gators return to action on Sunday, when the team travels to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama in historic Foster Auditorium, where tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET.

Courtesy of UF Communications