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Sunday March 18, 2012Gators' Guards Steal Spotlight from Buckeyes' Duo

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – There was no escaping the chatter for the Gators leading up to Sunday’s game against Ohio State.

The Buckeyes’ backcourt duo of Samantha Prahalis and Tayler Hill owned most of the headlines as the only pair of teammates in the country each averaging 20 or more points. Most pundits seemed to have the Gators one-and-done in their first trip to March Madness since 2009.

Florida senior Jordan Jones had heard enough. Jones couldn’t wait to get on the court Sunday and show that Florida’s backcourt could play a little, too.

The Gators delivered that message early and often in a 70-65 win over Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament here at a packed Stroh Center full of red-clad Buckeyes fans.

Jones and fellow guards Jaterra Bonds and Lanita Bartley spent much of the afternoon acting as road blocks every time Prahalis or Hill got the ball.

“Honestly, all week long all we heard was Ohio State this, and Ohio State that,’’ Jones said. “Their guards average this, their post players do this, they run in transition.

“Honestly, we took that to heart. I know Ohio State has talked a lot about being disrespected, but we felt a little disrespected. I don’t think people realize how good our defense is. I knew that Ohio State hadn’t faced anything like it and I think it showed in the first four minutes and throughout the ballgame.”

The Gators raced to a 9-0 lead and led by as many as 13 points (30-17) in the first half in the first meeting between the schools. They never trailed.

It didn’t take Hill, Ohio State’s leading scorer at 20.3 points a game, long to realize the Gators came to play. She committed a turnover on the game’s first possession which led to a layup by Bonds.

“It started with my turnover,’’ she said. “We had too many unforced turnovers.”

While Hill scored a game-high 23 points on 9 of 15 shooting, she had to work for her points more than usual, rarely left wide open. The same for point guard Prahalis, who came in averaging 20.1 points and 6.4 assists per game.

Prahalis finished with nine points and three assists in the final game of her career, going scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting in the second half.

The Gators watched a lot of film trying to decide the best way to defend the Buckeyes’ duo, which finished 8.4 points below their combined average.

“We just knew we had to stop the ball as soon as they caught it because they are really good in transition,’’ Bartley said. “We practiced that a whole practice. We made sure that somebody was stopping the ball and somebody was getting back [to help defensively].”

Ohio State coach Jim Foster said he liked the shots his team was getting for the most part, but the unforced turnovers and Prahalis’ quiet game was too much to avoid a first-round exit.

“She’s the kind of player that needs a rhythm and feels, you know, she has that rhythm,’’ Foster said. “I don’t think she ever got comfortable with it today.”

Adding to Ohio State’s frustration was Foster’s open criticism of the NCAA Tournament Committee all week regarding his perceived lack of respect as a No. 8 seed in the Des Moines Region.

Meanwhile, Florida’s backcourt arrived focused and provided stellar defense throughout the game and some offense in the clutch, with Bonds hitting 3 of 4 free throws in the final seconds to seal the victory.

Bartley finished with 15 points, Bonds had 11 and Jones chipped in with seven points and eight rebounds.

“That was probably the best first 20 minutes that we’ve ever had,’’ Bonds said. “It got us hyped and gave us confidence. We always try to have the best first four minutes and I think that really helped us. We carried that out the whole first half.

“I felt as long as both of them didn’t get off and get their average, we were going to be OK.”

They were.

After the game, Florida coach Amanda Butler made sure to walk over and congratulate Prahalis, a player she recruited and coached with USA Basketball, for her career. Prahalis finished as the Big Ten Conference’s all-time assists leader.

The Gators used several tactics on slowing down Prahalis and Hill, alternating between trapping and switching on defense when the two had the ball. Hills got going late, but Prahalis never did.

“We knew they would overcome what we were trying to do,’’ Butler said. “We played them a couple of different ways and [Prahalis] also just missed a few shots. We just had some really terrific individual effort.

“I’m really proud of my kids for coming out and throwing the first punch and really setting the tone.”

 

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