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Senior Sharielle Smith

Wednesday March 17, 2010Women's Basketball hosts South Florida in WNIT First Round Thursday

Gainesville, Fla.

Senior Sharielle Smith

The University of Florida plays host to South Florida in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament on Thursday in the O’Connell Center beginning at 7 p.m.

 

Florida’s selection for the postseason WNIT is the 16th time in the last 18 years the Gators have earned a postseason berth – including each of the last three years under third-year head coach Amanda Butler.

 

“You play all season long for an opportunity to have a chance to play in the postseason,” Butler said. “With as much adversity as we faced and to still have this opportunity to extend our season, is exciting.”

 

Florida will be appearing in the WNIT for the fourth time since the event’s inception in 1998. The Gators reached the final in 2000, falling to Wisconsin, 75-74, in the title game. In 2005 Florida dropped a tough first-round contest to USF, 61-56, in Tampa. The Gators also made an appearance in 1985 in the NWIT, which is no longer contested, reaching the national final.

 

The Bulls are the defending WNIT champions, defeating Kansas, 75-71, in last year’s title game played in front of 16,113 fans in Lawrence, Kan.

 

“South Florida is very well coached and has had a season very similar to ours,” Butler said. “They’ve shown they can be a very, very good ball team and have had some disappointments. They’ve had some injuries. They play in a tough conference and faced some of the best competition in the country, just like we have.

 

“This will be an instate battle, the SEC (Southeastern Conference) versus the Big East,” Butler continued.

 

The Florida-South Florida series consists of 38 games, however, Thursday will be the first meeting between the two programs since March 16, 2005, when the Bulls defeated the Gators in the first round of the WNIT played in Tampa.

 

USF senior Jessica Lawson is the anchor of the team on both ends of the court. The 6-foot-3 center leads USF in scoring (14.2 points), rebounding (10.5 rpg), shooting accuracy (50.5%), blocked shots (41) and double-doubles (16).

 

Freshman KaNeisha Saunders has proven to be a capable scorer and floor general, contributing 9.6 points while dishing a team-best 95 assists and 45 steals. Janae Stokes and Sequoyah Griffin have kept defenses honest by hitting a combined 86-of-234 three-pointers per game for a 36.8 percent mark.

 

Butler said. “They have a dominant post player in Jessica Lawson and she has done a great job of solidifying herself as one of the best centers in her conference. They have great athleticism around her.”

 

Six of Florida’s final eight regular-season games were against teams ranked in the top-25 of the national polls, and the Gators went 2-6 to close out the stretch.

 

Florida played 17 of its 29 regular-season games against teams that earned a postseason berth, tallying a 6-11 record in those contests.

 

Florida has lost three consecutive games entering the postseason, including six of its last seven outings. The Gators dropped a disappointing 74-61 decision to Auburn in the first round of the SEC Tournament.

 

In the last five games, senior Steffi Sorensen (Jacksonville, Fla.) is averaging a team-best of 12.4 points and 13 steals, along with 5.8 rebounds and hitting 39.5 percent (15-38) from the three-point arc.

 

Freshman Jennifer George (Orlando, Fla.) is averaging a team-high 6.2 rebounds over the last five games, hitting 50.0 percent from the floor and contributing 9.6 points, the second most during the span.

 

Sophomore center Azania Stewart (Wood Lawn, England) has a stress fracture in her left foot and did not play in the final five regular-season games. The Gators’ tallest player at 6-foot-4 and the SEC’s field goal percentage leader, Stewart returned to the court in the SEC Tournament, playing 14 minutes and contributing eight points in three blocks.

 

Redshirt sophomore Jordan Jones (Suwanee, Ga.), who is tied with Sorensen as Florida’s leading scorer this season, played in two WNIT postseason games prior to joining the Gators. As a freshman at South Carolina, Jones set the WNIT postseason-record and tied USC’s program record with nine 3-pointers (9-17) against North Carolina A&T (March 21, 2008) in a first-round win, tallying a career-high 31 points on 11-of-23 shooting from the floor. Jones followed that performance by hitting 7-of-9 from 3-point range for 27 points in the second-round WNIT loss at NC State (March 24, 2008).

 

Florida played five other schools from the Sunshine State this season, posting a 3-2 record. The Gators defeated Stetson, 85-63, in their season-opener, lost to No. 13/10 Florida State, 66-62 on Nov. 17, topped FIU, 71-60, on Nov. 29 but lost to Florida A&M, 72-71, on Dec. 1. The Gators ended the run with a strong 80-54 win over Jacksonville on Dec. 30.

 

Postseason WNIT - First Round Info

What: Florida (14-16, 7-9 SEC) vs. South Florida (15-15, 6-10 Big East)

When: Thur., March 18, 2010 * 7 p.m. ET

Where: Gainesville, Fla. * Stephen C. O’Connell Center (12,000)

Radio: LIVE on WBXY-FM (The Star 99.5) in Gainesville with Steve Russell & Brittany Davis

Internet Audio: LIVE thru GatorZone.com (FREE of charge)

Internet Video: LIVE thru GatorZone.com (FREE of charge)

Television: none

Post-Game Satellite Feed: none

Tickets: All tickets are general admission seating $5 for adults and $3 for senior citizens and youth ages 12 and under; UF students with a valid ID will be admitted FREE of charge; USF student tickets are $4 with a valid ID.

 

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