Women's Hoops: Gators Drop Second Straight

It's still early in the SEC season so there is no need to panic yet but the ship the Florida Gators sailed into a top 25 ranking in the women's poll a couple of weeks ago is starting to take on a little bit of water. Coach Carolyn Peck's Gators fell to Kentucky, 80-65, Thursday night at the O'Connell Center, a game in which they were outmuscled on the inside and outfinessed from the perimeter.

On the inside, Kentucky dominated with a 55-39 rebounding advantage and on the perimeter, the Wildcats followed the hot shooting of Jenny Pfeiffer for a 9-24 effort from the three-point line while the Gators could counter with a poor 1-13 outing. Jennifer Humphrey pulled down 19 rebounds and Eleia Roddy had 14 for the Wildcats who got 16 second chance points from 19 offensive rebounds. Pfeiffer hit 6-9 from three-point land and finished the game with 23 points as Kentucky improved to 12-3 overall and 2-1 in the SEC. With their second straight loss in the SEC, the Gators fell to 1-2 in league play and 13-3 overall.

Florida actually held Kentucky to 42.4 percent shooting from the floor but the Wildcats hit timely shots, particularly from beyond the arc. The Gators did a good job of stopping Carly Ormerond, the nation's top three-point shooter (2-9 on threes), but the Gators had no answer for Pfeiffer.

"Kentucky did a tremendous job of finding Jenny Pfeiffer to get a three off," said Peck. "We had breakdowns trying to find out where the shooter was."

Pfeiffer's shooting was the difference in the game from an offensive standpoint. Other than her hot hand, the Wildcats struggled to get into any offensive rhythm but they were able to get plenty of second shots while limiting Florida to a single shot on most possessions.

"We forced a lot of missed shots but we couldn't get a rebound," said Peck. "It took the wind out of our sails. We missed a lot of defensive assignments. We knew who their shooters were but we left them wide open."

It was Pfeiffer who was the stiletto in Florida's heart when she hit three three-pointers over a two minute stretch to break a tight game wide open. Florida was down four, 57-53, when Pfeiffer connected on a three-ball to stretch the lead to seven. Her three-pointer from the corner at the 7:08 mark upped the Wildcats' lead to 65-52 and she delivered again with 6:11 remaining. That burst was all Kentucky needed to maintain a comfortable lead the rest of the way.

Florida had no answers for the Kentucky perimeter game. Florida's leading scorer and top three-point threat, Sha Brooks, had a night to forget, going 0-4 from the field and 0-1 from beyond the arc. The Gators tried to counter Kentucky's outside game by pounding inside but the points were sporadic and the production inconsistent.

The Gators got a 23-point effort from Dalila Eshe and 15 points from Brittany Davis but there was no outside threat to prevent the Wildcats from sagging their defense to make every shot a tough one for Davis and Eshe.

Florida fell behind by 11 points in the first half, stretching the lead to double figures on consecutive possession when Pfeiffer and Ormerond delivered threes to give Kentucky a 33-22 lead with 4:32 remaining in the half. Over the next four minutes, the Gators played their best stretch of basketball for the entire game, rallying for 11 straight points and tying the game with 1:10 remaining when Danielle Santos nailed Florida's only three of the game from the top of the key. The Gators had two chances to take the lead before Kentucky got the lead for good at 35-33 when Jenn'e Jackson scored on a layup with two seconds left in the half.

Florida played an uphill game in the second half. Kentucky took the fight right to the Gators from the opening whistle of the second half, scoring the first six points before Florida got on the board with a couple of free throws by Davis. The Gators trailed by as many as nine points (49-40) when they mounted a mini-rally, trimming the Kentucky lead to three, 52-49.

The Gators closed to within three on a couple of occasions but each time the Gators got close, they hit the brick wall and couldn't get the game back to even. Florida shot only 5-18 from the field in the final eight minutes of the game.

"It takes tremendous energy out of you when you have to play from behind," said Peck. "We want to get ourselves in position where we have a lead and we're worrying about playing with a lead. It takes a lot of energy and you have to play that much harder when you allow a team to get a lead on you. I thought our team did a good job with that of closing that gap but we had to spend so much energy doing that. In the second half we didn't come out with the same energy that Kentucky had."

That inability to repeat the intensity shown at the end of the first half was a critical factor for the Gators.

"Lots of games are decided by intensity in the second half," said Peck. "Their intensity was very good … they got several second chance shots while we didn't."

The way Kentucky dominated the backboards indicates an area that the Gators will have to resolve. They've got a week before they play again, a road trip to Ole Miss to face former Gator Coach Carol Ross.

"Ole Miss has always been known for their rebounding," Peck said. "We will be working on our defense between now and when we go to Ole Miss, working on our rebounding some more."

Peck knows that in the SEC, which is top to bottom the best women's basketball league in the nation, seasons are dictated by the ability to win the rebounding battles. Teams that lose the battle by 16 boards usually wind up on the losing end.

"In the SEC when you get out-rebounded like that, you're not going to win too many ball games," said Peck.

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