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Senior Lonnika Thompson

Thursday March 18, 2010W-Basketball Advances Past USF In WNIT First Round, 61-54

Gainesville, Fla.

Senior Lonnika Thompson

Senior guard Steffi Sorensen (Jacksonville, Fla.) scored a team-high 16 points, sophomore center Azania Stewart (Wood Green, England) poured in 11 of her 15 points in the second half Thursday and Florida hung on for a 61-54 win against USF in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament played at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

 

The Gators (15-16) advance to face Miami (18-13), which defeated Florida Gulf Coast 70-57 on Thursday night at Coral Gables, Fla. That WNIT second-round game will take place at 2 p.m. ET Sunday at the BankUnited Center. The game will be carried live on WBXY-FM (The Star 99.5 FM in Gainesville) and through the internet at www.GatorZone.com.

 

Florida, which has advanced to at least the second round in four of its five WNIT appearances, improves to 8-4 all-time in the event. The Gators are now 35-4 all-time versus the Bulls and 210-61 (.775) all-time against schools from within the state of Florida.

 

The Gators sank 10 3-pointers in the game, marking the fourth time this season that Florida has recorded double-digit 3-pointers. It was one 3-pointer shy of tying UF’s postseason record of 11 team 3-pointers.

 

Sorensen’s 16 points included three 3-pointers to go along with four rebounds and three steals. Stewart connected on 6-of-8 shots from the field and swatted four blocks, one shy of her season high, in 35 minutes of action.

 

Senior guard Lonnika Thompson (New Orleans, La.) added nine points and came up with three steals, while senior forward Sharielle Smith (Bradenton, Fla.) chipped in eight points and tied for the team lead in rebounds with six. Freshman forward Jennifer George (Orlando, Fla.) also brought down six boards and blocked three shots.

 

The Gators shot 38.2 percent (21-of-55) from the floor for the game, while limiting the Bulls to 26.7 percent (20-of-75) shooting from the field. Florida won despite being out-rebounded 58-37 and attempting 20 fewer shots.

 

It marked UF’s 15th game this season decided by 10 or fewer points.

 

“It was a great victory and I’m really proud of the way our team fought and battled,” UF head coach Amanda Butler said. “It wasn’t pretty, but we didn’t necessarily expect it to be pretty, we just knew we needed to pull it out. We had balanced scoring tonight. Our rebounding and free-throw shooting were not working for us tonight and we have to correct that in the short turn-around that we have. It was a complete team effort and I’m really pleased with that. We’ve had fantastic preparation ever since coming back from a little bit of time off and I’m really pleased with the way we played tonight.”

 

Florida took a 32-24 advantage into the locker room at intermission after shooting 42.9 percent (12-of-28) from the floor in the opening period. The Gators limited USF to just 30.8 percent (8-of-26) efficiency from the field in the first half. Florida benefitted from seven 3-pointers in the opening period, despite being out-rebounded 20-16.

 

Florida scored the first five points of the game and started the contest on a 14-2 run that included four 3-pointers during that seven-minute span. The two teams then traded baskets until UF, leading 17-6, got a 3-pointer from Sorensen and a hoop by Stewart on consecutive plays to extend its lead to 22-6 with 9:41 remaining in the half.

 

The Bulls, trailing 24-9, ran off seven points in a row to whittle their deficit down to 10, 24-16, with 6:03 left until intermission. Thompson answered with a 3-pointer at the other end to spark an 8-2 run that put the Gators in front 32-18 at the 4:28 mark. USF scored the final six points of the first half.

 

USF opened the second half on an 8-0 run to knot the score at 32-32 before a 3-pointer by Smith at the 17:13 mark stopped Florida’s scoring drought and put it back in front 35-32. The two teams began trading baskets until three consecutive hoops by the Gators, including two from Stewart, put UF ahead 45-36 with 12:54 left. With her team ahead 45-38, Stewart recorded four more points to extend Florida’s advantage to 49-38 with 10:18 remaining.

 

USF trimmed its deficit down to three, 49-46, with just under six minutes remaining, before Jones knocked down a free throw and Sorensen sank a 3 from the right wing with 4:55 left and put UF ahead 53-46. With Florida up 53-48, the Gators ran off six in a row to widen their margin to 11, 59-48 with 2:22 left on the clock. 

 

USF (15-16) was led by senior center Jessica Lawson’s team-high 26 points and 12 rebounds for her 18th double-double of the year.

 

“It was a tough way to end the season,” USF head coach Jose Fernandez said. “We talked to our kids about the fact that only two teams in the country finish with a win, the NCAA champion and the WNIT champion. Tonight, Jessica Lawson played her tail off in the last game of her career. I am very proud of the seniors. Amanda [Butler] did a great job with our team tonight. They pressed us from beginning to end. We’re just going to have to regroup and get ready for the off-season.”

 

POST-GAME NOTES

  • Florida now leads the all-time series between the two schools 35-4, including an 18-1 mark when the game is played in Gainesville.
  • UF is 210-61 (.775) all-time vs. teams from the state of Florida, including a 12-5 mark under head coach Amanda Butler against Sunshine State teams.
  • The Gators are 8-4 all-time in WNIT action, making their fifth overall appearance in the postseason tournament. Florida has advanced to at least the second round in four of its five appearances.
  • Florida has now played 15 games this season decided by 10 or fewer points. The Gators are 8-7 in those contests.
  • The Gators used the starting lineup of Jordan Jones, Sharielle Smith Steffi Sorensen, Azania Stewart and Lonnika Thompson for the 15th time this season. Florida is 9-6 with the current starting lineup.
  • Florida knocked down 10 3-pointers in the game, its second-most in a postseason game in school history. The Gators sank 11 treys vs. FIU on March 15, 1997 in the NCAA First Round at Gainesville, Fla.
  • Sophomore center Azania Stewart scored 11 of her 15 points in the second half Thursday.
  • Senior guard Steffi Sorensen started her 62nd consecutive game, which ranks sixth all-time in school history.
  • Senior forward Sharielle Smith played in her 124th career game, which ranks eighth all-time in school history.

 

 

POST-GAME QUOTES

 

FLORIDA HEAD COACH AMANDA BUTLER

“It was a great victory and I’m really proud of the way our team fought and battled. It wasn’t pretty, but we didn’t necessarily expect it to be pretty, we just knew we needed to pull it out. We had balanced scoring tonight. Our rebounding and free-throw shooting were not working for us tonight and we have to correct that in the short turn-around that we have. It was a complete team effort and I’m really pleased with that. We’ve had fantastic preparation ever since coming back from a little bit of time off and I’m really pleased with the way we played tonight.”

 

On Miami’s Jessica Lawson and her game-high 26 points …

“She’s a great player. She’s an SEC caliber post player – there’s not any question about that. She’s a senior who wasn’t ready for her career to end. It showed in the way she played. She’s strong, smart and deceptively agile. She does a great job on the boards. Teams aren’t going to be able to guard her one way or with one person. She had a fantastic outing tonight.”

 

On Florida’s 14-2 run to begin the game …

“I thought it was huge because we didn’t have that sort of surge in the second half. With the tone that we set in the beginning, I don’t think we ever thought we weren’t going to win because of how we started. Even when it got close, we still felt good because of how well we started.”

 

On the difference in how the team plays with Azania Stewart on the floor …

“It’s obvious – Azania gives us such tremendous a tremendous presence in the paint on both ends. As much as [Jessica] Lawson was effective offensively, she struggled with guarding Azania. There is no doubt we look and feel different because of her presence on the floor. That energy that Z gives us and how she talks and communicates, breathes a lot of confidence into our team.”

 

On playing Miami on Sunday …

“I had the great fortune of working for Katie Meier at UNC Charlotte, so I know they’re a very well-coached team and very athletic. As far as playing on the road, that’s where game two is, so let’s go.”

#13 Azania Stewart, So., C

On slightly re-aggravating her stress fracture during that game …

“I haven’t been playing that much because of it, so it was just exciting to be out there. I really wanted to keep playing for our seniors and worry about the pain later. ‘Rub some dirt on it,’ as Coach told me.”

 

#10 Steffi Sorensen, Sr., G

On her team-high 16 points …

“We love playing at home. I’ve been putting in some extra work shooting here at the O’Dome. I didn’t shoot all that well tonight, but Jordan [Jones] did and that really propelled us in the first half. She came out hot and all of us followed behind her. She got us off to a good start to dominate the first few minutes, so we were in control the whole rest of the game.”

 

On playing what might have been her last-ever game in the O’Connell Center …

“It feels good to win on our home floor. It’s just about winning and advancing and it is just another win right now.

 

USF HEAD COACH JOSE FERNANDEZ

On his team’s loss against Florida

“It was a tough way to end the season. We talked to our kids about the fact that only two teams in the country finish with a win, the NCAA champion and the WNIT champion. Tonight, Jessica Lawson played her tail off in the last game of her career.  I am very proud of the seniors. Lawson has already graduated and Melissa Dalembert and Allyson Speed are done at the end of the semester. Tonight we had four freshmen on the floor. These eight kids have battled a lot in the last few weeks.”

 

On Florida’s win against USF …

“Amanda did a great job with her team tonight. She knew we would only play seven guys tonight. Florida pressed us from beginning to end. When we lost our point guard, Jasmine Wynne, three games into the BIG EAST season, we put the ball in Kaneisha’s [Saunders] hands the whole time. With her playing 40 minutes, they threw a 2-2-1 at her, jumped her and made it difficult for the rest of the team to handle the basketball. We’re just going to have to regroup and get ready for the off-season.”

 

-UF-

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