It is that toughness it takes to hang around in games even when things aren't going well that has Peck's Gators sitting at 9-4 going into the Southeastern Conference schedule which begins with a road trip to Arkansas on Thursday. Although not the tallest, quickest or most talented team, they have found that teamwork counts as they have shown a growing mental toughness that allows them to weather through stormy times in close games.
"I have to compliment our team in finishing games and playing to win," said Peck, whose team has won three tough games in a row, all that required Florida to dig deep for emotion and energy. Emotion and energy was necessary Saturday against a South Florida team that has been making some noise of its own in December. The 10-4 Bulls are good enough to have taken defending national champion UConn into overtime before losing.
The emotion and energy came from deep in the reservoir twice Sunday afternoon. After the cool start to the game, things got worse. When Brittany Davis scored on a short jumper with 14:30 remaining in the first half to tie the game at 6-6, the Gators would go another 6:09 before they scored again. Fortunately, Florida played tough defense during that same stretch so while South Florida was able to put points on the board and expand its lead, the Bulls couldn't score an early knockout punch.
Florida put together a mini-run of seven straight points to cut South Florida's lead to 14-13 after the cold spell, then played it even the rest of the half. Tied at 22-22 at the half, Florida came out cold again in the second half, but instead of thinking "here we go again," Florida didn't panic but kept hanging around.
South Florida disrupted Florida with its full court press, pushing the ball continually to build a nine point lead, 35-26, with 16:26 remaining in the game. That's when Davis and Bernice Mosby took over for a nine minute stretch, accounting for all 13 of Florida's points in a 13-5 run. Mosby and Davis accounted for all 13 of Florida's points, but it wasn't just the points that got the Gators back in the game, it was the little things they were doing.
Davis contributed an assist on a high-low pick and roll that got Mosby free for an easy two, then she drew a charge on the defensive end. She got an easy two of her own on a pass from Mosby, then got a stickback for two more. She tipped a ball to Mosby that got Florida a second shot and got perfect position on another rebound to draw an over the back foul.
Mosby, meanwhile, stepped up her game by playing smothering defense and dominating the boards in addition to contributing six of the points on that run.
"When we got into the momentum of making our run, it was the Bernice and Brittany show," said Peck. "They were finding each other well on the screen and rolls and both of them were getting their hands on a lot of balls."
That 13-point run by the two Gator juniors enabled Florida to cut South Florida's lead to 40-39. Davis outsprinted the Bulls down the floor to take in a perfect pass from Williams that she converted into a layup to bring the Gators back within one, then Williams gave Florida its first lead since 2-0 with a driving layup at 5:24.
From there, the Gators took control of the game, helping themselves at the foul line with 11-12 down the stretch. It was another "gut-check" win for the Gators who have proven in the past three games that they can play their way out of adversity.
"Even though we got down by nine the team didn't quit or get frustrated but continued to stay focused to pull out the win," said Peck. "It was a total team effort."
Peck felt her team might have been a bit leg weary in the first half as the Gators were playing just 48 hours after winning the State Farm Classic on back to back nights.
"In the first half we looked a little bit tired," said Peck. "It could have been from the tournament we just finished, but in the second half this team showed a lot of heart when fatigue could have been a factor. This team has a lot of pride in being Florida Gators and playing before a home crowd."
Mosby scored 13 points to tie Williams for scoring honors. It wasn't one of her better offensive games, but she dominated the game inside with 13 rebounds.
Davis finished the game with nine points and eight rebounds, not a great game statistically, but it was the little things that she contributed that added up big for the Gators.
"Whatever I can do that helps bring energy to a team, whether that's tip the ball to someone, get a rebound or take a charge, that's what I'm going to do," said Davis, who added that this is the kind of attitude that prevails on the team.
"We feed off each other," said Davis. "It's fun to be out there playing together as a team."
Florida only shot 37.8 percent from the field for the game, but the Gators held South Florida to 30.8 shooting and dismal 15 per cent shooting on 3-20 from behind the three-point line. Florida also dominated the backboards to the tune of 48-34.
"It's a team effort, but that's how we're going to have to win," said Peck.