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Photo: Matt Pendleton

Sunday March 18, 2012Gators Take Down Ohio State in NCAA Opener, 70-65

Photo: Matt Pendleton

The Gator women’s basketball team continued Florida’s recent run of success against Ohio State – this time in the NCAA Tournament played at the Stroh Center on the campus of Bowling Green State University in front of a predominantly Buckeye fan base that helped sellout the venue.


Florida took the lead from the start and never relinquished it in the first meeting between the two schools in women’s basketball, as the Gators earned the 70-65 victory and advanced to the second round for the eighth time in program history.


The Gators (20-12) hit nine 3-pointers and outrebounded the Buckeyes 46-35 in their first trip to March Madness in three seasons.


“Just really, really proud of all aspects of this ball game, starting out with preparation,” UF head coach Amanda Butler said. “I think that our team has experienced a lot of emotions this past week from the excitement of being in (the NCAA Tournament) to then having such a tough draw and then generating the confidence that they did in practice, you know, which obviously culminated with today's performance. There was a lot of determination and hustle, which I think are the defining qualities of this team. I’m just really, really proud of the way they played for 40 minutes, even some of those minutes didn't go quite so well, I thought we were resilient and just wouldn't give in or give up and fought the good fight all the way to the end.”


Nine of the 10 players who appeared in the game scored for Florida, led by 16 points from Jennifer George (Orlando, Fla.), including a basket with 45 seconds remaining to put Florida ahead by four, 67-63, after Ohio State trimmed the Gators’ lead to 65-63.


Florida led 39-31 at halftime behind a strong defensive effort and good ball management. Florida committed just four turnovers in the first 20 minutes while forcing nine. The Gators also hit seven-of-17 3-pointers in the first half, including a pair from starting guards Jaterra Bonds (Gainesville, Fla.) and Lanita Bartley (Jacksonville, Fla.).


Bartley finished with 15 points and four rebounds and did a nice defensive job along with Bonds and senior guard Jordan Jones (Suwanee, Ga.) on slowing down the Ohio State backcourt of Samantha Prahalis and Tayler Hill.


Prahalis finished with just nine points, including a scoreless second half, while Hill scored 23. They entered the game each averaging more than 20 points, the only teammates in the country who could say that.


The second half was full of streaks, as OSU began the second half with a 4-0 scoring run, closing the Florida lead to just four at 39-35. Jones opened up second-half scoring for the Gators with a layup and then found Bartley outside the arc for a trey, taking a 44-35 lead early in the second half. The Buckeyes scored five unanswered to close the gap at 44-40.


The Orange and Blue continued to push, as Bartley had a fastbreak layup and then found Jones open outside the arc to extend the Gator lead, 49-40. The teams battled for points, as Allen and Madu each found the basket, 52-43. Ohio State started to gain momentum again, but Madu hit her first trey of the afternoon – the sixth different Gator to do so - to stop the run and push Florida ahead, 55-48. A George layup extended the Gator lead back to 10, 59-49, with 7:07 remaining in the game.


The Buckeyes continued to have an answer on offense, scoring four fast points to cut the lead to six, 59-53, but the Gators continued to push back, as Allen answered Adams’ layup with one of her own, 65-57, with just under four to play.


OSU then began a 6-0 scoring run and held the Gators without a bucket for nearly three minutes, as UF committed four straight turnovers. A layup by George ended the drought, 67-63, with 45 seconds remaining in the contest. Two made free throws by Bonds pushed the Gators ahead, 69-65, but a trey by OSU’s Stokes kept things interesting as the Buckeyes pulled within four, 69-65, with just 6.7 seconds to play. Bonds was fouled driving down the lane and made the back end of two free throws to seal the victory for the Gators.


Jones was big on the boards, leading the Gators in rebounds (career-high eight) for the first time this season and just the second time in her Florida career.


The Gators jumped out to a quick 9-0 lead less than two minutes into the contest, courtesy of Bonds and George, who combined for all nine of UF’s early points.


Florida continued to surge, as Bartley hit one of her two first-half treys with 14:23 remaining in the first half, leading 17-9. Ohio State scored five straight, including a jumper from Prahalis, to pull within three, 17-14. An unexpected three-pointer from freshman Andrea Vilaró Aragonés (Barcelona, Spain) put the Gators back out in front, 20-14, and an over-the-shoulder layup by Ndidi Madu (Antioch, Tenn.) extended the UF advantage to eight, 22-14.


Lily Svete (Granger, Ind.) hit a trey of her own off a dish from Bonds and Svete’s defensive board gave Bartley an opening in the paint, putting the Gators ahead by 10, 27-17.


Bonds hit a three to give Florida its largest lead of the contest at 30-17, while Bartley continued her hot streak, nailing a 3-pointer from well beyond the arc to give the Orange and Blue a 33-21 lead with 4:44 remaining in the half.


After Bartley’s bucket, the teams traded baskets down the stretch, as both sides went to fighting for points in the paint after hitting 3-pointers early in the half. In the first half, Ohio State outscored Florida in the paint, 16-14, while the Gator bench came out strong, leading the Buckeyes, 10-2.


The victory over the Buckeyes marked the 20th win of the season, giving the Gators their 12th 20-win season in program history, as well as the third in five seasons under UF head coach Amanda Butler, who earned her 98th win for the Orange and Blue and became the winningest coach in UF history through her first five years.


Since 2006, the Gators have defeated Ohio State in football twice – the 2007 BCS National Championship Game and 2012 Gator Bowl – and Florida’s men’s basketball team defeated Ohio State for the 2007 national title.


The Gators advance to face top-seeded Baylor on Tuesday, with the time of the contest to be announced on Sunday evening.


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