UF Women’s Basketball Falls to No. 22 Vanderbilt, 66-58


GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Despite scoring 15 points in the final three minutes of the game, Florida was edged by Vanderbilt, 66-58, in a tough Southeastern Conference game held at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center Thursday.

The Gators, who held a half-game lead over the Commodores, fell to 12-10 overall and 5-4 in the Southeastern Conference, while Vanderbilt improved to 17-6, 6-4 SEC.

The final outcome was Florida’s 11th game of the season decided by less than 10 points, including its eighth in nine league outings. It also was Vanderbilt’s sixth conference game decided by single digits, with the team sporting a 4-2 record in those tight ballgames.

Senior forward Sharielle Smith (Bradenton, Fla.), who scored seven points during the Gators’ furious final rally, and sophomore center Azania Stewart (Wood Green, England) both contributed a team-high 13 points towards Florida’s efforts.

“From the tip, Vanderbilt set the tone and we adjusted to tone they set,” Florida head coach Amanda Butler said. “We don’t do well with that. We don’t play our best basketball when we adjust to another team’s tone. We got off to a slow start offensively, we turned the ball over and weren’t aggressive enough. We can’t do that against a good team like Vandy.”

With Vanderbilt leading 59-43 with just over three minutes left in the game, senior guard Steffi Sorensen (Jacksonville, Fla.) hit a three-pointer with 2:49 on the clock that kicked off a UF 15-point scoring surge too little, too late. Sorensen chipped in nine points on the evening, hitting 3-of-7 from three-point land.

Despite a flood of 18 detrimental turnovers for UF in the game, the Gators managed to out-rebound the Commodores, 36-28, and capitalize for
22 second-chance points. Vanderbilt out-shot Florida from the field, hitting 51 percent (26-of-51) to UF’s 41.5 (22-of-53).

“I like physical, I like games like that,” Sorensen said. “We didn’t do a good enough job, though. They got a lot of loose balls and that was the difference-maker. The biggest thing is we didn’t hustle to the loose balls. It is what it is. I didn’t hit good shots.”

Two more layups and a free throw from Smith following Sorensen’s trey, complimented two free throws by freshman guard Tessah Holt (Fayette County, Ga.) and another from sophomore guard Trumae Lucas (Greensboro, N.C.) inside the final two minutes of play to aid in UF’s last-chance scoring efforts. Senior guard Jennifer Mossor (Orlando,
Fla.) contributed two points on a layup and Smith scored the last two points on a jumper with four seconds left, as the Gators could get no closer before the final horn.

Smith collected a game-high eight rebounds, while freshman Jennifer George (Orlando, Fla.) grabbed six along with nine points. Stewart snared five rebounds along with a career-high tying five blocked shots.
Sorensen also battled on the boards, pulling down six, with five on the offensive end, helping the Gators out-rebound the Commodores, 36-28.

While the Gators collected the opening tip, the Commodores started the SEC contest with a six-point run, in large part to VU junior forward Hannah Tuomi, who put up Vandy’s first four points, while turnovers plagued the Gator offense throughout the first half of play. Florida’s Stewart got the ball rolling for the Orange and Blue, putting up two consecutive layups, the second thanks to an assist by Sorensen.

A 7-2 run by UF, including a trey by Sorenson and two layups by Smith, gave Florida the go-ahead on a jumper by UF redshirt sophomore Ndidi Madu (Antioch, Tenn.), which put the Gators up, 13-12, its first lead of the game, at the 12:42 mark.

Back and forth scoring efforts by both teams made for a fairly close first half, as Stewart chipped in seven more points to lead the UF offense with nine points in the first 20 minutes. A portion of the 11 first half Florida turnovers and six points by Vanderbilt’s Tiffany Clarke inside the six-minute mark allowed Vanderbilt to establish its largest lead of the half, 32-21, with 2:40 remaining.

A three-point play by Stewart and a layup by George narrowed the VU lead to 34-26 heading into the locker room.

Vanderbilt, which hit 45.8 percent from the field in the first half, opened the second half with hot shooting and a 7-1 run, forcing the Gators to take a time out and regroup with 17:20 on the clock, the score standing at 41-29. A Jordan Jones (Suwanee, Ga.) three-pointer provided a little spark for the Orange and Blue, but the ‘Dores responded with a three of their own, kicking off another 9-4 run that left the Gators behind, 50-34, with 9:20 left. Despite a late run by the Gators, the extra momentum allowed Vandy to pull away and sustain down the stretch.

“We didn’t knock down shots when we were open,” Butler added.
“Vanderbilt put us in a lot of shot clock situations where we had to force shots instead of choosing them. What was more upsetting was our free throws, which is something we are usually good about. I do think it’s contagious, and it’s also mental. We didn’t all of a sudden become a bad free throw team tonight, it was just a lack of confidence.”

The Commodores, who had won three of its last four games entering the game with Florida, has now won seven of the last eight in the series with the Gators.  Junior guard Jence Rhoads led VU in scoring, with 14 points, while senior guard Lauren Lueders pulled down a team-high seven rebounds.

“To come away with a win and get such a lead against a good team like Florida – we feel good about this,” Vanderbilt head coach Melanie Balcomb said. “Florida lost a couple really good players last year in Sha Brooks and Marshae Dotson, and so did we. This has been a really great match-up for us lately, and to play a team that’s a game above us in the conference with no pressure helped. I want to build a little bit of confidence and we wanted to be able to come in and steal a game on the road and that’s what we did.”

The Gators will return to action Sunday, Feb. 7, when they play host to Mississippi State. The Florida Women’s Basketball team is once again proud to be a part of the WBCA’s Pink Zone initiative as it hosts the Lady Bulldogs at 1:00 p.m. in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The 2009-2010 season marks the third consecutive year the Gators have participated in this initiative, which assists in raising breast cancer awareness around the country. The UF/MSU game will be broadcast statewide by Sun Sports, Cox Cable channel 48 in Gainesville