The Gators took a 36-21 lead at half time after going ahead as much as 21 late in the second quarter. Led by freshman Eleanna Christinaki’s 10 points and 8 from junior guard Simone Westbrook, Florida looked to have pretty much command of the game early on.
“I’m really proud of our first half effort and at moments I thought it was some of our best basketball,” Florida head coach Amanda Butler said. “There is no one in this league that you can count out or feel comfortable with any size lead. Give Alabama a lot of credit for their play down the stretch in the second quarter and they dominated in the third quarter.”
“It is a very talented team and I am kind of like a broken record. It’s another SEC team and that makes it a great win.”
In fact the Crimson Tide came all the way back and tied the game 56-56 and then again at 61-61 as the third quarter buzzer sounded. The Crimson Tide’s biggest lead was 69-65 with 7:00 left in the game and that is when Florida hit their final stride that started with a three point basket by Westbrook.
“I think that was a big play, but I think Simone’s defense and diving on the floor again, just an amazing defensive effort play, where she gets knocked out of bounds and fouled at the same time, I think those are the things our team feeds off of,” Butler said. “The three was great, but a play that was all out ‘I’m going to sacrifice my body for the team’, I think that gets our team fired up.
“I think we have so much confidence in our fourth quarter. Continuing to believe in each other and continuing to do what we call the right things over and over again. It’s a different combination of players every single time, but the mission is still the same, the priorities are still the same.”
The Gators certainly have to work on handling the ball and making better passes. Too many times sloppy passes turned into the ball headed in the wrong direction off of deflections.
“I think we set an O’Dome record for turnovers tonight,” Butler said. “But to still be able to win and find a way to win in the face of that I think it is pretty incredible and it speaks to the spirit of this team.
Junior Ronni Williams (11), Christinaki, (16), and Westbrook (11) were the three Gators in double digit scoring on the night. Senior guard Carla Batchelor poured in nine points and added a team high rebounds. Alabama was led by Meoshonti Knight who led all scorers with 23 points and contributed to the Gators turnover woes by finishing with six steals.
Batchelor was key in the win down the stretch.
“I thought Batch’s minutes for us today were critical and having her on the floor at the end of the game and having the smaller lineup were all positives for us,” Butler said. “It’s turning out to be that’s kind of Florida basketball this year. Do what you’ve got to do in the fourth quarter no matter how ugly it looks or how wonderful it’s been. The fourth quarter has been really important for us.”
The Gators travel to Columbia, Missouri Monday to take on the Missouri Tigers (15-4, 2-4) at 2 p.m. in a game that will be televised on the SEC Network.