WOMEN'S HOOPS: Morehead sparks UF by MSU

There are these moments --- more often these days than at the beginning of the season when she was fighting her way back into shape from an injury --- that Tashia Morehead gets that look in her eye that lets her teammates know that she's back in a very big way.

She got that look in her eye Sunday afternoon and it was at the precise moment that the Florida Gators needed her most. Having squandered 21 points of a 22-point lead, Morehead got open on the baseline. Her three-pointer bumped the Gators lead to 53-49, and after a Mississippi State layup, Morehead got another good look thanks to a screen by Bernice Mosby. Her layup made it a four-point Florida lead. Her teammates knew she was feeling it, so they kept getting her the ball in critical situations and she responded. She scored nine of Florida's final 17 points and grabbed three clutch rebounds as the Gators beat Mississippi State, 67-56, in a Southeastern Conference game at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center.

Morehead finished the game with 19 points and five rebounds as Florida improved to 14-10 overall and 5-6 in the SEC. She got great support from Mosby who turned in a yeoman effort on the boards with 16 rebounds to go with her 17 points.

Though unhappy that the Gators allowed Mississippi State back in the game after such a dominating first half, Coach Carolyn Peck was pleased that in the tough moments when Mississippi State charged back, her team pulled together.

"I think that this team had proven to themselves in the first half what they were capable of doing, so when Mississippi State made their run, instead of panicking and saying oh my gosh we can't guard them or we can't do this or do that, we just had to get back to doing what we did in the first half," said Peck.

Once Morehead knocked down that shot on the baseline, the Gators got back to what they had done to build the big lead in the first place.

"We settled back in and I think Tashia Morehead took care of things on the offensive end for us," said Peck, "and I think Bernice Mosby did a great job defensively especially in the rebounding category with her getting 16 boards."

Mosby carried the Gators with 10 points and nine rebounds in the first half, a half in which the Gators shot 48.4 percent while holding Mississippi State to 24.1 percent on 7-29 from the field. It was when the Gators let Mississippi State back into the game in the second half that Mosby said she knew that the team could depend on Morehead.

"When we're down we know that we can go to her," said Mosby, Florida's leading scorer and rebounder on the season. "We can always count on Tashia to come through. She's a great person and a great player, too."

For Morehead, who resonded "Yes I was!" when asked if she was feeling it down the stretch, playing pain free has everything to do with her getting her game back in gear at a time when the Gators need her most.

"I'm injury free now," she said. "A nagging injury plays into your mindset so once you have that injury past you and you're feeling 100 percent again, all you have to do is worry about basketball.

"I always stay positive, stay calm and like coach always says be a threat. I was looking at open shots and I had to take them."

Peck is so pleased that Morehead never allowed herself to get too far down when the nagging injuries were holding her down early in the season. She knew that once her senior star could get past the injury and get into good playing shape, that she would have a weapon on her hands to take the pressure off Mosby and give the team a real lift.

"Tashia has played herself into great shape," said Peck. "After an injury you get out of game shape and you have to push through some tough times. A lot of times she was pushing through injuries was a time when we were experiencing some losses but she continued to stay positive and work hard and she's played herself back into great shape."

It's not just the physical condition of Morehead that has Peck beaming, though. Sunday it was her poise when the game was on the line.

"She goes up to the baseline and knocks down a three for us and next time down we set a screen for her and she scores on the block," said Peck. "Those are the kind of things that we had to have when Mississippi State got close. We had players who were answering or making the key plays."

In the final minutes of the game, Florida got a boost from Sarah Lowe's ballhandling as she consistently wove her way through the Mississippi State press. Dalila Eshe pulled down several clutch rebounds and knocked down four critical free throws.

"It was a total team effort," said Peck. "All ten of our players played, and all ten of them contributed."

Peck is giving the Gators Monday off. They don't have a midweek game and won't take the court again until next Sunday when they play host to nationally ranked Vanderbilt at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center.

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