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Azania Stewart scored 15 points with 12 rebounds, both season-highs.

Friday March 2, 2012Women's Hoops Drops Heartbreaker in SEC Tournament Quarterfinal

Nashville, TN

Azania Stewart scored 15 points with 12 rebounds, both season-highs.

Jennifer George (Orlando, Fla.) scored 18 points and Azania Stewart (Wood Green, England) posted her third double-double of the year but it wasn’t enough as Florida dropped a tough 71-67 decision to top-seeded and No. 10/9-ranked Kentucky on Friday at the quarterfinals of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament held at Bridgestone Arena.


“I just first have to congratulate Kentucky on a hard-fought battle,” UF head coach Amanda Butler said. “They certainly wouldn’t go away. We had some moments in this game where we looked like the better team. They always fought back and answered.”


Sixteen of Kentucky’s final 18 points came from the free throw line in the final 8:31 of the game, as the Wildcats converted 25-of 33 for the game to overcome a 29.7 percent shooting night from the floor.


Florida hit 12-of-20 free throws, missing five attempts during that final 8:31 span.


“It was important,” Butler said of the team’s free throw performance. “Everything was important. We knew it was going to be a ballgame that would be won or lost by two or three points, one or two possessions. You look at every missed free throw. You look at every missed cue offensively. You look at every foul. Free throws certainly contributed to it. We didn’t, down the stretch, hit a couple of those that we should have. I think there’s a lot of things I could single out and say, This possession here, this stop there. We just didn’t close out the way we needed to.”


Several significant runs defined the first half and the early part of the second, before the teams played virtually even ball for the final 14 minutes on the game, with just a possession or two the difference in the outcome.


The Gators (19-12) used a 16-0 to take a 14-point lead early in the game before the Wildcats (25-5) stormed back with a 15-2 run and got within one at the 5:25 mark of the period. Florida answered with a 16-4 spurt that lasted through the end of the first hand and into the second to take a 38-25 lead with 18:18 remaining in the game.


Kentucky used the long ball to get back into the game, nailing three treys during a 13-2 run that cut UF’s lead to two, 40-38, with 14:27 remaining.


The teams traded buckets and scorers, but the Wildcats continued to chip away at Florida’s lead, eventually taking a 45-44 lead with 13:07 to play capped by a three-pointer from Keyla Snowden, who finished with 17 points, including 4-of-6 on her three-point attempts.


Jordan Jones (Suwanee, Ga.) followed 19 seconds later by nailing a three-pointer in her 14th consecutive game and gave the Gators a 47-45 lead. From there, the teams again exchanged scores and the Gators held onto the lead, even taking a four-point advantage, their largest of the final 13 minutes of the contest, with 11:38 to go.


After Stewart finished an athletic attempt just before the shot clock horn sounded that gave Florida a 56-54 lead, Kentucky marched off the next six points from the free throw line and took a four-point lead with 5:41 remaining.


Florida came right back with the next seven points from the floor, with four from George and a three-pointer from Lanita Bartley (Jacksonville, Fla.) and the Gators held a 63-60 margin with 3:52 on the clock.


The Wildcats hit four points from the charity stripe, with the last two of those coming from A’dia Mathies, who finished with a game-high 24 points, as Bartley picked up her fifth personal foul with 2:57 remaining.


“A’dia is the SEC Player of the Year for a reason,” Butler said. “She definitely showed that. I was very proud of our team, the way we fought, the way we played. If we could have done a little bit better job of keeping ourselves out of foul trouble, maybe we have been the first team up here in the press conference.”


After George and Deana Allen (Houma, La.) both sank one free throw that gave Florida a 65-64 lead with 1:36 to play, Bria Goss sank a short jumper inside with 1:24 to play and Kentucky held a 66-65 lead and wouldn’t trail again, as Kastine Evans sealed the game with two from the stripe with 5.1 seconds to go for the final margin.


Stewart finished a 15 points and 12 rebounds, both season-high marks, to lead the Gators, while Jones scored 13 points for Florida, which shot 42.6 percent (26-61) overall from the floor but committed 22 turnovers that resulted in 25 UK points, while giving up 16 offensive rebounds that the Wildcats converted into 13 more.


Ndidi Madu (Antioch, Tenn.) had another strong rebounding effort, pulling down eight and helping the Gators to a 44-42 overall rebounding edge.


Including Friday’s SEC Tournament quarterfinal outcome, 10 of Florida’s 12 losses have been by six points or less, while 16 games were decided by 10 points or fewer.


Florida now awaits its postseason fate, as the NCAA Championship field of 64 will be revealed on Monday, March 12 at 7 pm ET/6 pm CT, with ESPN airing the announcement.


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