Wednesday January 9, 2013Florida Plays Mississippi State in Starkville on Thursday at 8 pm ET
Junior Vicky McIntyre
Junior Vicky McIntyre
Florida plays its second Southeastern Conference road game of the year, traveling to Starkville to play Mississippi State on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.
The Gators are coming off a thrilling and hard-fought 77-72 win against LSU in Gainesville, where the team has won 15 consecutive outings. Now, Florida must test its young squad away from the friendly confines of the O’Connell Center.
VIDEO: Jaterra Bonds and January Miller provided a practice update with the media
TWO ways to watch:
VIDEO: Carlie Needles and Kayla Lewis talked with the media prior to Tuesday's practice.
TWO ways to watch:
VIDEO: Head coach Amanda Butler talked with the media as part of UF’s All Sports Press Conference on Monday
The Gators are 1-3 in true road games this year. Last season, Florida was 4-10 overall in true away games, including a 3-5 record in SEC action. Mississippi State is 8-2 inside Humphrey Coliseum and one of those losses came in its most recent outing - a 60-46 setback against South Carolina, which scored 32 of its points from the free throw line.
Entering the season, only three current players had suited up with the Gators for an away game in the last two years, with senior Jennifer George joining juniors Lily Svete and Jaterra Bonds with recent experience playing in hostile arenas. Redshirt-sophomore Kayla Lewis had not played a road game since Jan. 23, 2011 at LSU, as she missed the final 19 games of her freshman year while the three games she played last season prior to redshirting were at home.
Mississippi State is led in scoring by sophomore guard Kendra Grant, who averages 12.5 points, hitting 42.1 percent (8-19) from the three-point arc. Sophomore center Martha Alwal contributes 11.6 points, and is the SEC’s second-leading rebounder (9.4 rpg) and third-leading shot-blocker (2.3 pg).
“We have to play really aggressive and stingy defense,” said UF head coach Amanda Butler of her team’s focus against Mississippi State. “If they get in a groove, especially at home, they can be very dangerous. They are great off of the bounce. They are a very dangerous offensive rebounding team and have one of the best rebounders and shot blockers in our conference in Martha Alwal. Our defense is going to be really, really important.
“I also think we really need to value the basketball on the other end of the court,” Butler shared. “We can’t have any silly turnovers. They like to press, pressure, shut down passing lanes and get after the ball handler so we’ve got to take good care of the ball.”
The Gators might have just eight players available for Thursday’s game, as they might have to face Mississippi State without their lone senior and preseason Naismith Player of the Year Candidate Jennifer George.
UF’s leading scorer and rebounder injured her shoulder with 5:06 remaining in Sunday’s game against LSU and did not return to the court. George is listed as “day-to-day” and will be a game-time decision against the Lady Bulldogs. If she is unable to play, Florida will have just eight players suiting up trying to win the Gator’s first SEC road game of the year.
“I’m not sure yet who would start if Jennifer can’t go on Thursday,” Butler said. “We would play and look a lot like we did in the last five minutes against LSU. We’ll play whoever makes sense at that moment. If size is what we need then it will be Mac (Vicky McIntyre). If athleticism is what we need then it will be (Christin) Mercer. If we need a different dynamic, we can run other players at the four-spot. We have a lot of options. I don’t think it will be anything our team will be worried about.”
George has scored in double-figures in 13 of the 15 games she has played this year (did not play in the season opener). George, who is the SEC’s active career leader in double-doubles with 26, most recently tallied a 15-point, 11-rebound effort against LSU (Jan. 6). George also is the SEC’s active career leader in rebounds (791) and is second for blocks (153) and fifth for steals (142).
George leads the Gators in scoring (14.6 ppg), rebounding (9.3 rpg) and steals (2.5 pg) and ranks second for field goal percentage (54.8%) and blocked shots (18).
The Gators posted a convincing 79-45 victory over the Lady Bulldogs in the only meeting between the two teams last year. The 34-point margin was the second-widest in the 40-game series history. Florida holds a slim 22-18 lead in the all-time series against Mississippi State, which sports an 11-7 advantage in games played in Starkville against the Gators.
Florida has won the last six meetings in the series, but four of those have been played in Gainesville. The Gators have won the last two match-ups in Starkville by a combined 10 points.
Bonds, the only returning player that boasted experience in the backcourt for the Gators this year, leads the team in trips to the free throw line (70), where she converts 81.4 percent of her attempts. During the Jan. 6 game against LSU (UF’s 16th game), Bonds made her 57th free throw - passing the 54 she converted through 33 games last year.
Bonds is 18-of-19 from the free throw line in the last two games, sporting a career-best 17 made streak during the stretch. Bonds is averaging 11.3 points with 3.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game.
Over the last two games, Bonds averaged 20.0 points per game and was both game’s leading scorer
“Jaterra’s playing exactly how we would expect her to be playing because of how hard she works,” Butler said. “She has led this way throughout. She has high expectations of herself. She practices that way and when you do that on a consistent basis, it’s inevitable you’re going to play that way. I’ve been really pleased with her. The pressure is going to continue to mount and her challenge is to handle it with each week’s new challenge. I have full confidence in her doing that.”
Freshman Sydney Moss also is averaging a double-figure scoring effort, tallying 10.7 points per game. She leads Florida in assists (3.9 apg), while ranking second for third (10.7), and second for rebounding (5.9 rpg) and steals (1.7) and has flirted with a triple-double four times. Among SEC freshmen entering the games of Jan. 10, Moss ranks second for assists and fourth for rebounds.
Gator freshman Chandler Cooper and Lady Bulldog freshman Jessy Ward were teammates at Clarksville (TN) High School last year, where each member of the starting five signed to play and is a freshman at an NCAA Division I basketball program. The star of the Lady Wildcat’s stellar class that compiled a 127-13 record in four years was Bashaara Graves, who is a starting forward for Tennessee - the Gator’s next opponent. Also on that Clarksville prep squad was Tiasha Gray, who plays at Austin Peay, and Tia Nicholson, who plays at Tennessee Tech.
Florida (12-4, 1-1 SEC) at Mississippi St. (8-7, 0-2 SEC)
Thu., Jan. 10, 2013 * 8 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. CT
Humphrey Coliseum (10,500)
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*Over the last three+ years, UF has played 61 games decided by 10 points or less (4-2 this year, including both SEC games)
*UF is 1-3 in true away games this year; 3-4 overall away from home
*MSU is 8-2 at home this year
*UF Jennifer George is a preseason First Team All-SEC selection by coaches & media
*In 8 of UF’s 16 games this year, every Gator who suited up to play, scored
*Jaterra Bonds has started 49 consecutive games
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