Saturday January 26, 2013Florida Plays at No. 14 Georgia on Sunday at 1 p.m.
After a tough three-game homestand where the Gators lost all three, Florida hits the road where it will play four of its next five games. The adventure begins on Sunday in Athens, Ga., where the Gators face Southeastern Conference rival Georgia in the first of two regular-season meetings between the two teams.
The game will be televised live on several outlets, including LIVE CSS (COX Sports/Charter Sports Southeast - Cox Ch. 259 in Gainesville), as well as on CSN California, CSN Houston, The Comcast Network, CST and BHSN.
“We just have to play. You can’t be too upset, too high or too low,” UF head coach Amanda Butler said. “There’s no rest of the weary because the next (game) is coming, and the next one and the next one wants you just as bad as the previous one did. Going to Georgia is a very tough trip. One of the most talent teams in our league, as always.”
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The Gators (13-7, 2-4 SEC) are coming off an 88-81 loss to Ole Miss on Thursday, when Florida fell behind midway through the first half and couldn’t shut down the Rebels’ hot shooting night that included a 9-for-10 performance from the three-point arc in the first half.
All six of the Gator’s SEC games this year have been decided by eight points or less, including the 52-44 setback to No. 18/16 South Carolina on Jan. 20 and the 78-75 overtime loss to No. 9 Tennessee on Jan. 13.
During Florida’s last three games, the Gators have been out-rebounded 49.3-44.3, and hit just 37.8 percent from the floor overall, as well as 23.8 percent (10-42) from the three-point arc and 58.2 percent (32-55) from the free throw stripe.
“There are quite a few categories where we can learn,” Butler said. “Free throw shooting is really hurting us right now. We’ve put ourselves in position to win a few ballgames and have not been able to step up to the line with confidence so we have to get more reps in.”
The Gators were out-rebounded in their last two games after having won the battle of the boards in 13 consecutive games prior.
“Also the battle of the paint, rebounding is just essential in this league,” Butler continued. “(Former UF head coach) Carol Ross always used to tell me that whoever wins the battle in the paint is going to be the best teams in the league every year. If we really are serious about trying to be in contention to be one of those teams we have to take care of the paint a whole lot better.”
The 14th-ranked Lady Bulldogs (16-3, 4-2 SEC) enjoyed a midweek bye after falling at home to Texas A&M, 64-46, on January 20.
Sunday’s game against the Lady Bulldogs will mark Florida’s third time in its last four games facing a nationally-ranked opponent. The Gators missed out on upset wins in both outings, falling in overtime to No. 9 Tennessee (78-75) and to No. 19/18 South Carolina (52-44). Florida’s last win over a ranked team was on March 17, 2012, when the unranked Gators upset No. 16/18 Ohio State, 70-65, in the first round of the NCAA Championship.
Georgia was voted to finish second in a preseason poll of the SEC’s head coaches and by the media, who also selected Florida to place eighth and ninth, respectively.
It would be hard-pressed to find a more exciting series in the SEC over the last three years than the one between Florida and Georgia. Each of the last seven games between the two SEC rivals has been decided by nine points or less, with the Lady Bulldogs carrying the 4-3 edge in those recent match-ups. In each of the last three years, the home team has won the game.
“It’s been a great battle between the two teams,” Butler said. “We have to bring our best and generate some momentum because we’ve lost a little of that right now and really need our leaders to step up. Hopefully, we can get everybody healthy in the next few days and put together a couple of good performances.
It is a battle and often very ugly. There is no love lost between the two programs in every sport. It’s a fantastic rivalry for our league and for women’s basketball. For us, it’s really important that we not just play well but that we win. We
have to go win the ballgame and it starts with what we do in the paint.”
The overall series, however, has been dominated Georgia, which carries a 46-14 lead in the 60-game series, including a commanding 25-4 record when playing in Athens. Florida’s last win in Stegeman Coliseum was back on Jan. 18, 2004, when the Gators captured the 83-73 win that snapped their eight-game winless streak in Athens.
Some of the top players in the league will be on the court Sunday. Florida senior Jennifer George was named as preseason first-team All-SEC selections by the league’s coaches and media. Georgia’s Anne Marie Armstrong and Jasmine Hassell both received recognition as preseason first-team honorees.
George, who is UF’s leading scorer and rebounder, came off the bench in the Gator’s Jan. 10 win at Mississippi State because she dislocated her shoulder with 5:06 remaining in the Jan. 6 victory against LSU. George suffered the same injury with 3:56 remaining in the first half of UF’s overtime loss to Tennessee (Jan. 13) and had been the team’s leading scorer with eight points before the setback. She was not cleared to dress for UF’s Jan. 20 home game against South Carolina, marking just the second game she has missed during her career.
A Preseason Naismith Player of the Year candidate George has scored in double-figures in 13 of the 17 games she has played this year. George leads the Gators in scoring (12.9), rebounding (8.3), steals (2.1) and field goal percentage (53.0%) and ranks second for blocked shots (25).
George collected her 800th career rebound during the Jan. 24 game against Ole Miss, as she became the 11th Gator in program history with 1,000 points and 800 rebounds.
Over the last six games, junior Jaterra Bonds is averaging 17.8 points per game and has been UF leading scorer in five, highlighted by her effort from the free throw line where she has converted 36-of-46 free throws. She has scored in double-figures in each of the last eight games.
Overall, Bonds is averaging 12.4 points (second on the team) with 4.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists (second on the team) per game. Bonds, who is the only Gator who has started every game, ranks third in SEC games for scoring (17.8 ppg), seventh for free throw percentage (82.1%) and 13th for field goal percentage (41.5%).
UF redshirt-sophomore Kayla Lewis and freshman Christin Mercer are natives of the Peach State. Lewis is from Decatur, located just 54 miles from Athens. Lewis graduated from Southwest DeKalb (Ga.) High School in 2010 and was the 2010 Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year as well as named 2010 Miss Georgia Basketball, as announced by the Atlanta Tipoff Club. Lewis led SWDHS in 2010 to a successful defense of its Class AAAA State Championship, scoring 20 points in the final versus Northwest Whitfield at Gwinnett Arena en rout to the Panthers winning their third consecutive state title. In the 2009 title game, she totaled 16 points and 15 rebounds against Fayette County and was named MVP of the 2009 state tournament. Mercer is a native of Douglasville, approximately 79 miles from Athens, and graduated from Douglas County High School in May of 2012. She was a 2011 and 2012 Atlanta Journal Constitution All-State First Team Class AAAA selection.
In the last three games, Lewis has stepped up her game, especially in the absence of George in the paint, averaging 10.7 points and 8.7 rebounds.
“Kayla is a redshirt sophomore. She’s been here for three years and knows what we expect,” Butler said. “She understands the SEC battles maybe a little more than (junior transfer) Vicky McIntyre or Christin Mercer who are experiencing things for the first time. It’s really important for her to step up and play a bigger role as we try to get Jennifer settled back into the lineup and playing regular minutes. Kayla had some great minutes and hopefully she’ll stay consistent with that.”
Freshman January Miller is also stepping up her game, contributing 10.0 points over the last three outings. During the 14 non-conference games, Miller tallied 4.6 points, while converting 5-of-20 (25%) three-point attempts and 12-of-19 free throws (63.2%).
Freshman Sydney Moss has garnered the attention of SEC coaches, as she leads Florida in assists (3.6 apg), while ranking third for scoring (10.3), second for steals (1.7 pg) and tied for second for rebounding (6.4 rpg). She has flirted with a triple-double four times. Among SEC freshmen entering the games of Jan. 27, Moss ranks second for assists, third for rebounding and third for scoring. She has been the Gator’s game leader for assists 10 times, for rebounding six times and scoring three times.
Florida (13-7, 2-4 SEC) at #14 Georgia (16-3, 4-2 SEC)
Sun., Jan. 27, 2013 * 1 p.m. ET
Stegeman Coliseum (10,523)
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*UF carries a season-long three-game losing streak into Athens
*last 7 games in the series have been decided by 9 points or less
*all 6 of UF’s SEC games have been decided by 8 points or less
*Overall UF has played 10 games decided by 10 points or less (5-5)
*Jaterra Bonds has been UF’s leading scorer in 5 of 6 SEC games
*Jennifer George has 1,106 career points & 801 career rebounds
*George is preseason 1st Team All-SEC selection by coaches & media
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