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Thursday February 28, 2013 Jennifer George gets a sendoff to remember

Updated: 11:42pm, February 28

Jennifer George and friends

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With a chance to climb a spot in the Southeastern Conference rankings, the Florida Gators women’s team huddled before Thursday night’s home finale against Arkansas.

It was a must-win for the Gators, but if you asked around the scrum there was a far greater must at stake and it involved the team’s lone senior, unquestioned warrior and walking double-double Jennifer George.

“This game is for George,” junior point guard Jaterra Bonds declared. “We have to send her out right.”

And away George went, two hours later, into the arms of the teammates that love her (above) and with a 69-58 collective-effort victory the likes of which made UF coach Amanda Butler beam with pride.

George did not want the night to be about her -- even said as much to her fellow Gators -- but guess what?

She had no choice.

George into“They wanted to win that game for her and I think that’s great,” Butler said after her team improved to 17-12 overall and 6-9 in league play. “Maybe if we were this grown-up team with a whole bunch of seniors we would have said, ‘Here’s the importance of the game, here’s what we’ve got to do, here’s where it matters in the big picture.’ But it mattered more to them to win for her and, to me, that’s a great demonstration about how tightly knit this team is and how much they care about each other.”

Butler is big on closeness and the family-as-team philosophy. Clearly, it resonated with her players against the Razorbacks, who trailed by 14 with 12 minutes to go and fought back to tie the game at 55, with most of the rally coming with George on the bench with four fouls.

From there, though, freshman Sydney Moss hit a go-ahead jumper, then George scored back-to-back baskets in the post to open the lead back to six. A 3-pointer from freshman January Miller off an assist from Bond was followed by an old-fashioned 3-point play by Moss and the refuse-to-lose creed had closure.

“That was a great way to go out,” George said.

She finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, marking her ninth double-double of the season (despite aggravating that injured shoulder that has plagued her since early January), in what was her 126th career game, four off the school record.  

George shootingAfter an emotional post-game tribute -- “I didn’t cry, so that’s a good thing,” she said -- here’s how three of teammates (one from each class) sent George out from the post-game podium.

Bonds: “She’s grown up and matured as a woman, from when I first got here and then seeing the change in her to now in her senior year. She’s one of the most unselfish people that I’ve ever gotten the chance to play with. ... I felt like we had to send her out in this way and there wasn’t any other option.”

Sophomore forward guard Kayla Lewis: “The most gratifying thing about it is before the game, she was saying: ‘This isn’t about me. This is about us building momentum into the SEC Tournament and that we have the opportunity to get two quality wins and go to Atlanta with smoke behind us from our fire.’ ... Ever since I’ve been here, it’s never been about her. She can have 26 double-doubles in a row and not care about getting any the credit. She just wants to win and do her part. I think tonight we did our part by letting her get her last win here. If that’s a thing that I can give her, then I would rather that be what I give to her.”

Freshman guard Carlie Needles: “George is one of my best friends, and she is a great basketball player, but she is an even better person off the court. ... I’m just really thankful I got to play with her because she is really, really fun to play with. She works hard, and she has overcome a lot of adversity. She has really stepped up and been a leader. We all look to her a lot, so it really meant a lot to us that she got what she deserved -- to go out on a good note. ... She works so hard for us, and we go to battle for her.”

And, finally, Butler: “I think it’s appropriate. I think it’s fantastic. Great teams love each other like that.”

Great players deserve that love without demanding it, which goes a long ways toward making them great.

Jennifer George went out the right way.

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