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Senior point guard Jaterra Bonds will be key to any type of postseason run by the Gators.

Sunday March 2, 2014As Senior Day Proved, Bonds Difficult to Replace for Gators

Senior point guard Jaterra Bonds will be key to any type of postseason run by the Gators.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- You knew the game was about to change, and barring a surprise, not in a kind way for the Florida women's basketball team.

The moment of truth came with a little more than 11 minutes left in the Gators' 83-72 loss to Texas A&M Sunday afternoon in the regular-season finale.

Point guard Jaterra Bonds, with dozens of family and friends in the O'Connell Center bleachers to watch her on Senior Day, cut her way through Texas A&M's tall frontcourt for a layup attempt.

Bonds twisted toward the basket, found an opening and flipped a shot toward the rim.

Jaterra Bonds

The shot missed and Texas A&M's Courtney Williams grabbed the rebound and the Aggies raced the other way. Jordan Jones missed a shot, Chelsea Jennings got the rebound, and then Jennings missed.

Finally, Florida forward Kayla Lewis snagged one of her team-high eight rebounds. But Bonds was nowhere to be found for the outlet pass.

Before Lewis could push the ball up the court an official's whistle stopped play. Bonds lay on the floor at the other end of the court, writhing in pain as Gators coach Amanda Butler and others held their breath.

"Jaterra, when she was out there, was really, really hard to guard,'' Butler said.

Trainer JB Barrett and assistant coach David Lowery were the first reach Bonds. Soon it was obvious Florida's floor leader would need to leave the game.

Bonds tried to walk off but couldn't, and eventually needed to be carried to the locker room by Lowery.

The Gators trailed 52-48 when Bonds left with what was diagnosed as a cramp in her quad muscle. When she checked back into the game with 3:59 left, the Gators trailed 72-61 and their upset bid of the No. 17-ranked Aggies was all but dead.

The sequence illustrated Bonds' importance to the Gators the past four seasons and especially to this year's team, which finished the regular season 18-11, 8-8 in the Southeastern Conference.

It wasn't the Senior Day anyone had in mind for Bonds or teammate Lily Svete.

"She took me under her wing from Day 1,'' said teammate and fellow point guard Carlie Needles, who hit four 3-pointers Sunday to keep the Gators close. "I appreciate that a lot. She taught me a lot.

"Seeing JT go down, my first initial reaction was, 'if we don't get her back, I want to get this for her.' I just wish we could have had a different outcome. We wanted to win tonight for them, but we still have the tournament."

The two seniors on Florida's roster have endured a difficult season of transfers, injuries, a key suspension and the grind of SEC play.

They survived to win two more conference games than a year ago.

"I feel like throughout the season there has always been something that we have had to overcome,'' Svete said. "It just kind of feels routine now. 'What's going to happen next that's bad?' That's fine. We'll figure it out and deal with it and figure out how to win. That's how we're approaching [the postseason]."

A victory over Texas A&M on Sunday likely would have punched the Gators' ticket to the NCAA Tournament regardless of what they do next week at the SEC Tournament. Instead, they will go to Duluth, Ga., in search of more wins and ammunition to make their case for an invitation to March Madness.

Aggies coach Gary Blair, whose team finished 23-7, 13-3, doesn't think the Gators have much to worry about.

"Florida has done a tremendous job all year with their injuries and their transfers and everything that has gone on,'' Blair said. "Amanda should get a lot of votes for Coach of the Year. I think she has done a tremendous job. You don't know how hard it is when basically she loses three starters."

The best news for the Gators on Sunday was that Bonds was able to return after receiving treatment in the locker room.

As the medical staff worked on her cramp, Bonds said she kept asking the score and how much time was left.

As she usually does, Bonds led the Gators with a team-high 18 points and five assists in her 99th consecutive start, the third-longest streak in program history.

Bonds said she was "not 100 percent" when she returned to the game.

However, to be a serious threat in the postseason, the Gators will need Bonds running the show. When she left Sunday the Gators' offense became disorganized and lost on more than one possession.

"I'm fine,'' Bonds said afterward. "When I started cramping up, I just felt like 'why?' at the time. 'Why this game?' I had trust in my teammates that we weren't going to let them take over the game because I was out."

The loss of Bonds for a significant portion of the second half wasn't the only reason the Gators lost. They didn't play well at the start of either half. They committed 20 turnovers, which led to a 25-9 advantage for the Aggies in points off turnovers.

And Texas A&M's size advantage played a huge role in the second half as Jones racked up 14 assists by consistently feeding the ball into the post against Florida's smaller lineup. The Aggies scored more than half their points (44) in the paint.

"We knew there were going to be moments of adversity that we were going to have to overcome,'' Butler said. "The thing that was disappointing is we felt some of that was self-imposed. Some of our turnovers were just silly and avoidable."

Bonds and Svete were joined by their families on the court after the game as part of Senior Day ceremonies. They were presented with framed jerseys and highlights from their careers played on the large video boards inside the O'Dome.

They hope to add more highlights before their careers are finished.

For that to happen, they will need Bonds to play the lead role.

 

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