COLUMBIA, S.C. – Lanita Bartley (Jacksonville, Fla.) stole the inbounds pass underneath Florida’s basket and converted a three-point play with 16.7 seconds remaining and the Gator defense did the rest as Florida earned a 65-63 victory at South Carolina Sunday afternoon at Colonial Life Arena in front of 3,071.
In a tight game that featured 13 lead changes and nine tied scores, Florida collected its first true road win of the season and improved to 12-5 overall and 2-1 in the Southeastern Conference.
With Florida holding its largest lead of 56-52 with 5:46 remaining, Valerie Nainima nailed back-to-back three-pointers and gave South Carolina (9-7, 1-2 SEC) a two-point edge with 3:08 to play.
Azania Stewart (Wood Green, England) came back and hit a tough inside jumper and tied the score at 59-all, before a pair of Gamecock free throws swung the advantage back to the hosts with 2:16 on the clock.
Jordan Jones (Suwanee, Ga.), who began her career at South Carolina, stepped up and worked for a three-pointer from the right side with 1:31 remaining and gave the Gators a 62-61 lead.
La’Keisha Sutton followed with a driving layup and swung the lead again at 1:11 on the clock.
Florida turned the ball over on its ensuing offensive possession and South Carolina missed its shot attempt at the other end, giving the Gators the ball with 36 seconds remaining.
Florida missed its attempt and South Carolina got the ball on the side of the court, setting up Bartley’s heroics.
South Carolina raced down the court to try and tie the game, but Ndidi Madu (Antioch, Tenn.) collected Walker’s miss and tipped the ball to Stewart, who was fouled. The Gator junior missed the front end of the one-and-one from the free throw line with six seconds remaining, giving the Gamecocks a little hope.
“We had huge plays down the stretch from some individuals,” UF head coach Amanda Butler said. “I’m so proud of Lanita because she hadn’t played an especially good ballgame, but every time she came to the bench I kept telling her ‘you’re going to make the play. We just need you to stay intense and ready.’ It just so happens that she gets the huge and-one at the end that puts us ahead. I’m so proud of our composure at the end of the game because we practice late-game situations every day and I’m sure the team gets tired of it, but this is why you do it. It was just a reaction at the end.”
South Carolina’s final attempt resulted in its 10th turnover of the game and Florida emerged with the thrilling victory.
Madu led Florida with a career-high 17 points, hitting 7-of-9 from the floor and 3-of-3 free throws in 22 minutes of action. Jaterra Bonds (Gainesville, Fla.) added 11 points, as eight different Gators contributed offensively.
“Ndidi did a great job of shooting her shots,” Butler praised. “She shot the shots she practices every day and she knocked most of them down today.”
Florida shot a season-high 56.5 percent (26-46) in the game, including 3-of-9 from the three-point arc and 10-of-16 from the free throw line. The Gators also won the rebounding battle, 33-24, led by 10 from Jennifer George (Orlando, Fla.), who also contributed six points, three assists and a pair of steals.
“Jennifer George’s rebounding in the first half helped sustain us,” Butler said. “To win the rebounding battle is the story of the game because we had to get stops and we had to get rebounds. We were able to score when we got the stops. We did a great job of executing out of timeouts, especially. Jordan hit a huge shot and I’m so happy for her. This was a great win and a big momentum builder as we have the opportunity to return and play back on our home court on Thursday.”
The Gators next play host to No. 5/6 Tennessewhen tip-off from the O’Connell Center is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET. The game will be televised live by Comcast Sports South, while the radio broadcast can be heard live in Gainesville on WBXY-FM 99.5 and through the internet at www.GatorZone.com, the official website of the Florida Gators.
Walker finished with a game-high 22 points, while Ashley Bruner added 16 points and La’Keisha Sutton dropped in 13 with eight assists for South Carolina which hit 42.9 percent (24-56) from the field, including a 7-of-22 effort from the three-point arc.
The first half featured several runs by both teams, five lead changes and three tied scores, including the 31-all halftime time score that marked the first time this year the Gators were even at the break.
South Carolina jumped out to a 7-2 lead to start the game, before Deana Allen (Houma, La.) hit a pair of free throws that started a 6-0 swing and tied the game with 16:34 after Azania Stewart’s short jumper connected.
The hosts then mounted an 8-0 march sparked by a pair of three-pointers and held a 15-7 lead with 14:53 on the clock.
Deaundra Young (Titusville, Fla.) bucket inside at 13:27 began a 7-0 run that included scoring from Lanita Bartley (Jacksonville, Fla.), Allen and Jennifer George (Orlando, Fla.), as Florida cut the deficit to one, 15-14, with 9:42 remaining in the opening half.
The teams traded buckets before Young hit another bucket and George followed with an offensive putback with 8:17 left that gave the Gators their first lead of the game.
Again the teams traded scorers, as Ndidi Madu (Antioch, Tenn.) 13-footer gave Florida a 20-19 edge with 7:11 to go.
South Carolina regrouped and scored the next nine points for a 28-20 lead, tied for its largest of the contest so far, with 4:01 on the clock.
That run forced Butler to call a timeout and the Gators responded, as Jordan Jones connected on her first field goal attempt of the game, a three-pointer. Bonds followed with a driving layup and Madu dropped in another short-range shot and UF was within one point.
USC halted the run with an inside score with 1:40 remaining, but Bartley hit a driving bucket of her own and Madu canned another to give the Gators a 31-30 lead with 37 seconds until halftime.
Ieasia Walker converted one of two free throws with 13 seconds left and Jones’ 3-point attempt at the buzzer wouldn’t fall as the teams entered the break even at 31.