Jordan Jones (Suwanee, Ga.) scored 19 points and Azania Stewart (Wood Green, England) tallied the second double-double of her career as the co-captains of the Florida women’s basketball team led the Gators into the semifinals of the Preseason Women’s NIT after a hard-fought 76-70 victory against Charlotte Monday in the O’Connell Center.
The win marked the 100th career coaching victory for Florida’s Amanda Butler, who began her coaching tenure at Charlotte, where she won 40 games in two seasons before returning to her alma mater for the start of the 2007-08 season.
The Gators (2-0) next play at DePaul (2-0), which won at Missouri State, 82-66, in its quarterfinal game Monday night. The semifinal game between the Gators and Blue Demons is scheduled for Thu., Nov. 18, with tip-off from McGrath Arena in Chicago set for 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT. The other semifinal game features South Dakota State at Purdue on Thur., Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. ET.
Freshman Brittany Shine (Sacramento, Calif.), who finished with 11 points in 11 minutes of playing time, scored nine consecutive points early and gave Florida a 14-point lead midway through the first half, but the 49ers (1-1) fought their way back into the contest and took their first lead of the second half, 49-48, with just over 13 minutes remaining.
The lead changed hands on four straight possessions, before Jones nailed a three-pointer with 11:22 on the clock and the Gators were able to stave off every charge the rest of the game, as the 49ers drew within one point four more times after Jones’ trey but would never retake the lead.
“There weren’t a whole lot of pretty moments and when you can win ugly, and grind it out like that, you feel really good and confident. That’s how we feel right now,” Butler said. “What’s special about this team is that there are so many different ways we can make plays. We need our consistency to get better and that’s what we’ll continue to challenge, but as long as we keep fighting like that, I feel good about our chances.”
Florida shot 40.9 percent (27-66) from the floor and held a slight 39-38 rebound edge over Charlotte, which hit 47.6 percent during the game, with 40 points coming in the paint. Epiphany Woodson led all scorers with 23 points, as she hit 9-of-17 for the 49ers, who also got 13 points from Kendria Holmes and nine points and 13 rebounds from Jennifer Hailey.
Stewart contributed 11 of her 13 points in the second half, while collecting 10 rebounds for the Gators, who had another well-rounded scoring show, as 10 of the 11 Gators who played, scored during Monday’s victory.
Charlotte opened the second-half scoring and the teams traded scores eight times until Jaterra Bonds (Gainesville, Fla.) came up with a steal and Lily Svete (Granger, Ind.) knocked down a 16-footer that ended the streak and gave the Gators a 47-42 lead. Bonds finished with three steals and a game-high six assists.
Epiphany Woodson nailed a three-pointer that cut UF’s lead to one and followed shortly afterward with a pair of free throws that gave the 49ers a 49-48 lead, their first of the game since the opening bucket that came with 13:07 remaining.
The deficit was short-lived, as freshman Kayla Lewis (Decatur, Ga.) hit a layup and put Florida back on top, 50-49, with 12:43 to play.
The 49ers continued to pound the ball inside, as Jennifer Hailey converted a short bucket and the lead swung hands again.
Coming out of a timeout, Florida ran the floor and Bonds found a streaking Jones, who squared up for a three-pointer and gave the Gators a 53-51 lead.
After one free throw for the visitors, Stewart hit a short jumper and gave Florida a three-point cushion.
The scoring trend continued for two more possessions, as Deaundra Young (Titusville, Fla.) converted a reverse layup, but the 49ers countered with a shot in the lane.
Stewart put back an offensive rebound and after a Charlotte miss, Bonds collected the loose rebound and dished to Brittany Shine, who converted the layup and gave UF a five-point lead, 61-56, as the 49ers called a timeout with 7:50 to go.
Charlotte then scored its 36th point in the paint and cut the Gator lead to three with 7:38 remaining. Lanita Bartley (Jacksonville, Fla.) then was called for an offensive charge and the 49ers got the ball, looking to inch closer or tie the game on its next possession. Not surprisingly, Charlotte went inside and converted, drawing within one point, 61-60.
Young drove the lane and powered in a shot that gave the Gators another 3-point advantage. UF’s defense shut down the 49ers on the next possession, but couldn’t take build on its lead.
Again the Gator defense stood tall, but like the previous time down the court, didn’t convert. Shannon McCallum drove the lane for the 49ers and sank the team’s 40th point inside, bringing Charlotte to within 63-62. The Gators again went cold from the floor, but this time Charlotte turned the ball over on its next try down the court.
McCallum attempted a long trey and Stewart collected the miss. Jones missed for UF, but Stewart fought for the offensive board and the Gators took advantage, as Jones found Ndidi Madu (Antioch, Tenn.) inside and the Gators took a 66-62 lead.
Hailey hit one free throw on the other end, before Bonds drove the lane, converted a layup, was fouled on the play and sank the free throw to complete the three-point play that gave UF a 69-63 lead with 1:24 remaining. Charlotte wasn’t finished and Holmes added a jumper with 1:04 to close the gap to four, 69-65.
Bonds missed the front end of a one-and-one, then couldn’t connect on the first of a double-bonus from the line, before finally sinking one at the stripe to give UF a 70-65 lead with 38 seconds remaining.
Woodson followed by hitting two from the line, but Stewart answered with two for the Gators with 28.7 seconds on the clock, helping UF take a 72-67 lead. Bartley came up with a steal on Charlotte’s ensuing inbounds play and was fouled, as she calmly sank both.
The 49ers refused to fold, as Holmes knocked down a trey with 17.7 seconds on the clock and Charlotte called a timeout to set up its press. Jones was immediately fouled when the Gators inbounded the ball, hitting one for a 75-70 lead.
Charlotte couldn’t connect on its next offensive possession and sent Madu to the line, where she missed the first but made the second with 8.1 seconds remaining and eventually end the game’s scoring. Madu finished with eight points in 15 minutes of play.
Charlotte scored the first bucket of the game, but the Gators stormed back with a 12-1 run, getting scoring from Bartley, Madu, Jones and Lewis, and forced the 49ers to call a quick timeout.
Charlotte regrouped by scoring the next four points of the ball game and cut Florida’s lead to five with 15:32 on the clock.
The teams traded possessions without any scoring before Shine ignited the Gator offense, as she scored her first collegiate points on a floating layup after driving down the middle of lane at the 14:06 mark. She followed with a three-pointer from the right side of the arc then tacked on two more buckets to cap a personal 9-0 run that gave Florida a 21-7 lead with 12:06 left in the first half.
The 49ers then countered with a 12-3 march, pounding the ball inside and scoring in offensive transition to close within five points, 24-19, with just over eight minutes left in the half.
Stewart halted the run with a 10-footer in the paint, but Charlotte answered with a quick bucket and drew Stewart’s second personal foul of the game. Kendria Holmes wasn’t able to complete the three-point play and Jones made it costly, as she nailed a three-pointer that extended the lead back to eight points, 29-21, with 6:47 on the clock.
Epiphany Woodson and Holmes both hit jumpers in the paint and Charlotte was within four points, 29-25.
Deana Allen (Houma, La.) muscled up a tough offensive putback that gave Florida a six-point swell, but Charlotte came right back with a pair of buckets inside that marked the 49ers 22nd point in the paint and cut the Gator lead to two, 31-29.
Young then added a bucket inside for Florida, but again the 49ers went inside on their next two possessions and tied the game with a driving layup by Woodson. Jones knocked down a pair of free throws that kept the Gators in the lead and added a six-footer in the paint to close the first-half scoring with Florida ahead, 37-33.
Charlotte scored 26 of its 33 first-half points in the paint, hitting 51.6 percent of its shots, paced by Woodson, who hit 7-of-11 for 14 points. Eight different Gators scored during the opening frame, led by Jones’ 10 points.