"Obviously I'm just thrilled to death for our team, and in particular our seniors and our post players who worked really, really hard. They knew they had their hands full," Florida head coach Amanda Butler said. "Florida State is a fantastic team and very well coached. We talked about it in the locker room – That's not just a NCAA Tournament team, that's a team that's going to advance in the NCAA Tournament and has a chance to compete for an ACC Championship. It was a great win for us and the thing that's so sweet about this win – you might think it's because it's against Florida State, but it's not – that's special, but Azania (Stewart) said this in the locker room: it's truly a team win; team defense, team offense, we were sharing the ball, making plays off of each other and the bench was great. The people who didn't play as much tonight did exactly what they were supposed to do when they came in. I just couldn't be prouder for the whole team, their preparation and their e! ffort. It was also a great scout by Coach (Brenda) Mock (Kirkpatrick)."
Sophomore Jaterra Bonds (Gainesville, Fla.) and senior Azania Stewart (Wood Green, England) each grabbed a team-high six rebounds as Bonds chipped in 14 points and Stewart contributed 10 for the Gators (2-1) as the Orange and Blue served FSU (2-2) its second loss of the season. Senior Jordan Jones (Suwanee, Ga.) scored 14 points and grabbed two steals and a rebound as Florida halted FSU's two-game win streak in the series. Bartley dished out six assists, just one shy of her career-best seven, while Stewart also rallied for four blocks and two steals in the win.
On sophomore Kayla Lewis' (Decatur, Ga.) 20th birthday, the Gators tallied their 46th all-time upset victory – the 24th in front of a home crowd – behind an aggressive offensive attack that saw UF shoot 46.8 percent from the floor, while holding the ‘Noles to 35.5 percent. Lewis contributed four points and three rebounds in the win. Florida now has 26 upset wins when unranked, last defeating then-No. 22 Georgia at home, 74-71, Feb. 27 last season. UF was 12-for-14 (85.7 percent) from the charity stripe, worked the ball down low for 44 points in the paint, compared to FSU's 30, and capitalized on 15 fast break points to FSU's four.
"Florida came out and just played a great game and played with a lot more heart and passion than we did," FSU head coach Sue Semrau said. "They are just a gritty team, they have a lot of experience back from last year and it shows."
The game was knotted just once, 2-2, at the 18:16 mark in the first half, but after a Jones jumper to go up, 4-2, UF never relinquished its lead, extending the largest margin to 14 points with a 41-27 halftime score. Florida State senior Cierra Bravard put up a team-high 22 points to lead the Seminoles' efforts, but Bravard fouled out with nearly five minutes remaining in the intra-state rivalry. Natasha Howard was FSU's only other double-digit scorer, with 16 points and a team-leading 10 boards.
After jumping out of the gate and surging to a 14-point halftime lead, an even battle ensued in the second half, but Florida never let the Seminoles closer than seven points within striking distance after FSU narrowed the UF margin, 53-46, with 12:33 on the clock.
"Well it was huge (to respond to FSU's second-half run)," Butler reflected. "Again, when we talk about this team, a lot of times we talk about it relative to things we've experienced in the past. I think that today was a giant leap forward for this group to be able to create a lead with their defense and through their hard work in practice to fend off a very potent offensive team. We knew they would make a run at us, but for them to be able to answer and sustain the effort and sustain the energy, I was really, really proud of that."
Two defensive stands provided an entertaining finish down the stretch as both teams battled through a physical second-period contest. The Gators and Noles held each other scoreless for nearly a three-minute stretch from the 8:05 to the 5:11 mark in the final period, when senior Deana Allen (Houma, La.) knocked in two free throws after an Alexa DeLuzio foul, resulting in a 68-54 score in favor of the Orange and Blue.
A Howard jumper for FSU and a Stewart layup for the Gators proved to be the only scoring for both teams from the 4:47 mark until one minute, 15 seconds remaining in the rivalry's regulation. Deluzio tacked on two more points in the form of two free throws and George sealed the deal with a layup just under a minute left, resulting in UF's 41st all-time victory over Florida State, a 72-58 success.
It was Jones who led Florida on its first-half splurge, nailing a three with 29 seconds on the clock and following up with a fast break layup to take the Gators into the locker room ahead by 14 points at the half, 41-27. Jones rallied for 14 points alone in the first period of play, going 4-for-5 from the floor, including 1-for-2 from behind the arc and a perfect 5-for-5 from the charity stripe.
Florida shot 47.1 percent from the floor in the first period of play, holding FSU to just 37.5. As a team, UF's 7-for-7 mark from the free throw line led them to capitalize, along with 13 fast break points, compared to FSU's two and 14 points off turnovers to FSU's eight.
Florida opened the game with a 8-2 run after Bartley put up UF's first points on a layup and the Gators carried on with the splurge, continuing for a 13-6 final run, spurred by a jumper from Jones, followed by two Jones free throws, two points off a jumper from Stewart, two Bartley free throws and a layup from Lewis, the birthday girl. George kicked it up a notch, rallying for back-to-back layups before a Bravard jumper gave the Seminoles just their seventh and eighth points of the contest to bring the margin, 21-8, with 11:54 on the clock.
The Gators and ‘Noles traded baskets as Bonds knocked down a trey and Allen added a layup, but Florida State strung together a 7-0 run to climb within six points, 21-15, with just under nine minutes remaining. The two squads kept it fairly even for the next four minutes, with the Gators still holding four-point lead (27-23) with 3:50 on the clock, but Florida rallied for a 14-4 scoring surge to close out the final 3:50.
After Jones sunk three free throws following a foul behind the arc, Lewis connected on a jumper and Jones struck again to intercept a clutch ball for a steal with 2:24 on the clock. Jones fed Bonds underneath for the fast break layup and Bonds followed by tacking on another jumper to extend UF's lead, 36-27. Jones had a hay day in the final 30 seconds with her three, followed by a fast break layup to extend UF's lead 14 points after the Gators' 14-4 run to close out the final four minutes of the half.
Florida will next take on Hampton Tues., Nov. 22, in UF's final game of a four-game season-opening home stand. Tip off is slated for 7 p.m. from the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. Following the home match-up with Hampton, the Gators will head north for the Courtyard LaGuardia Turkey Classic, hosted by Long Island University Nov. 25-26, and will match up with La Salle and Charlotte in the two-day tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y.