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Saturday March 17, 2012Double Trouble: Gators Seek to Put Clamps on Buckeyes Guard Tandem

Gainesville, Fla.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – Gators head coach Amanda Butler didn’t need to watch all that film this week to know this: there isn’t much Ohio State senior point guard Samantha Prahalis can’t do on the basketball court.

The Big 10 Conference Player of the Year can pass, sometimes flinging assists behind her back or over her shoulder. She can dribble, often losing defenders by going behind her back or through her legs. She plays defense and isn’t afraid to mix it up with bigger players inside for a rebound.

“I think she is amazing,” Butler said Saturday. “I told our kids in trying to get to know them the only thing I don’t think we have seen Sammy do is post up. She probably can do that, too.”

Don’t forget to add scoring to the list of Prahalis’ prolific skills. The Buckeyes’ only senior is averaging 20.1 points, 6.4 assists and dropped a career-high 42 points on Minnesota last month.

There has been talk from those who remember when Butler starred for the Gators in the early ‘90s that some of Prahalis’ highlight-reel passes remind them a little of old No. 24 dishing in her day.

During her career at Florida from 1990-94 Butler led the Gators to their first two NCAA Tournament appearances in her junior and senior seasons. Butler never scored like Prahalis – her 9.5 scoring average as a senior was her best – but she did have a flair for making a flashy pass here and there.

Butler chuckled at the comparison on Saturday shortly before guiding the Gators through practice here at Stroh Center, site of Sunday’s first-round NCAA Tournament game between the Gators (19-12) and Buckeyes (25-6).

“I was not as good as her,’’ Butler said. “Probably the only similarity between our games is she takes great pride in passing. That is probably the only thing I did pretty well. I couldn’t score like she can or handle the ball like she does.

“I think we share an appreciation for running the team and trying to get the ball to the right person at the right time. She is the right person most of the time all the time on her team, and I was, ‘Let me pass to DeLisha Milton, let me pass to Merlakia Jones, let me pass to Bridget Pettis.’ So we’re very, very different in that regard.”

While this is the first time Butler has faced Prahalis as a coach, she recruited Prahalis out of Commack (N.Y.) High. The two also spent time together one summer in Thailand when Butler served as an assistant coach for USA Basketball. Prahalis was on the team.

Despite taking a recruiting visit to UF, Prahalis ultimately decided to attend Ohio State and recently became the Big Ten’s all-time assists leader.

Prahalis said Saturday she expects Butler to have the Gators, the No. 9 seed in the Des Moines Regional, ready to go against the No. 8-seed Buckeyes.

“I like Coach Butler. I’m a fan of hers,’’ Prahalis said. “She brings a lot of energy to a team. And we just know they like to get up and down. They like to run, they’re athletic, they can rebound -- that’s what we know. We like to run so it’ll be good.”

Gators point guard Jaterra Bonds is no stranger to trying to stop talented guards like Prahalis and Buckeyes shooting guard Tayler Hill. Hill leads Ohio State in scoring at 20.3 points per game. Ohio State is the only team in the country with two players averaging more than 20 points a game.

Playing in the SEC against guards such as Kentucky’s A’dia Matheis and Georgia’s Khaalidah Miller gives Bonds confidence the Gators will be up for the challenge.

“I take pride in defense, so if I can limit their touches and make them work for every shot they get and make it tough on them, I’ll feel like I’ve done my job,’’ Bonds said. “You’ve got to be physical and take away space, because they both are pretty good ball-handlers. Don’t give her room to make a move.

“Sammy, she is liable to do anything. She is a very complete player. I feel like Tayler Hill takes the ball to the hole a little more.”

Since the pairings were announced on Monday, much of the buzz surrounding Ohio State is its displeasure about being a No. 8 seed. Both Prahalis and Hill mentioned the word “disrespected” on Saturday, as did Ohio State coach Joe Foster.

Gators senior Jordan Jones said the Buckeyes’ guard tandem has plenty of respect inside Florida’s locker room.

“Obviously a great team led by two great guards,’’ Jones said. “They push the ball in transition. I mean, they are a different team than we are. We want to make it a long 40 minutes for them. There is not going to be anything easy, not any cuts, no easy shots.”

The last time Butler was in Bowling Green with the Gators for an NCAA Tournament game, she watched as teammate LaTonya McGhee hit a game-winning shot with two seconds left to defeat the host Falcons in the first March Madness game in the program’s history.

That was 19 years ago when Prahalis was an infant.

She’s not a baby anymore. Instead, she is perhaps the biggest obstacle in the Gators’ way of advancing to the second round.

“She handles probably better than anybody in the country,’’ Butler said. “She is just a great player and capable of taking over ballgames whether you like her style or not. She is a great point guard and just a complete player.”

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GATORS GAMEBOX - NCAA DES MOINES REGION 

Florida vs. No. 16 Ohio State

Tip-off: Sunday, 12:15 p.m. (Stroh Center, Bowling Green, Ohio) 

Records: Florida 19-12; Ohio State 25-6       

TV: ESPN2 (Cara Capuano and Abby Waner) 

Radio: WBXY-FM (99.5 in Gainesville – Adam Schick and Brittany Davis)

Game notes: Florida; Ohio State

Need to know: The Gators are making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2009 and 13th appearance overall … Florida is 10-12 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and has advanced to the second round seven times … Florida and Ohio State have never met in women’s basketball … The winner faces the Baylor-UC Santa Barbara winner on Tuesday … This is Ohio State’s 10th consecutive trip to March Madness … Florida and Ohio State are one of 24 schools with both their men’s and women’s basketball teams in this year’s tournament … The only Gators with NCAA Tournament experience are seniors Azania Stewart and Ndidi Madu … Florida is 3-1 all-time in the Buckeye State, including a win in the 1993 NCAA Tournament against Bowling Green in the program’s first NCAA Tourney game … While Ohio State guards Samantha Prahalis and Tayler Jordan averaged more than 40 points between them, Gators coach Amanda Butler is wary of others, including 6-foot-5 center Ashley Adams (6.9 points, 6.7 rebounds) … Ohio State is 22-0 this season when scoring 70 points, so defensive stops will be at a premium for the Gators … A Gators win would give them their 12th 20-win season in school history … Florida is 2-8 this season against ranked teams … Gators F Jennifer George, an All-SEC first-team selection, is averaged a team-best 13 points and nine rebounds … Senior G Jordan Jones is shooting 34.9 percent from 3-point range (66 of 189).

 

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