Florida can now turn its focus to Brittney Griner and No. 1 Baylor.
The Gators will face the nation’s top team Tuesday after winning their first NCAA Tournament game since 2009.
“Brittney Griner is phenomenal,” assistant coach Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick said. “She’s almost an unstoppable machine.”
Florida (20-12) will take on Griner, the Big 12 Player of the Year, after shutting down Ohio State’s Samantha Prahalis, the Big Ten Player of the Year. The ninth-seeded Gators held Prahalis to just nine points and three assists in a 70-65 win against the eighth-seeded Buckeyes on Sunday in Bowling Green, Ohio.
Prahalis averaged 20.1 points and 6.4 assists per game prior to the NCAA Tournament, but Florida’s defense shut her down after halftime, causing her to miss all six second-half shots.
“We knew that she was going to try to take over the game,” Kirkpatrick said. “Just the feeling in our kids’ minds was, ‘Look, [Prahalis] is going to come out on fire. We know we’re going to have to check her.’”
Shutting down Prahalis helped minimize the effect of Buckeyes guard Tayler Hill, who led the Big Ten in scoring by averaging 20.3 points per game in the regular season.
Hill scored a game-high 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting but disappeared down the stretch with just four points in the game’s final nine minutes.
“They have two kids that average over 20 points, and we wanted to focus on them a little bit more than we normally just single out a couple of players on a particular team,” Kirkpatrick said.
Hill scored her final four points and picked up an assist on a late 8-3 run by Ohio State that cut Florida’s lead to 65-63.
It was the closest the game had been since UF took a 2-0 lead on a Jaterra Bonds layup 12 seconds into the game.
“At the end of the huddle I said, ‘Look at me. We’re going to win this. We got this,’” coach Amanda Butler said. “The looks I got back were very confident. At that moment, I had a sigh of relief, because the confidence in their eyes was undeniable.”
Following the timeout, Jennifer George, who led the Gators with 16 points and six rebounds, took a pass from Azania Stewart in the paint and pivoted to her left for a layup. George’s bucket proved decisive in the five-point victory against the Buckeyes, improving the Gators’ record to 4-10 in games decided by six points or fewer.
“I commend Jennifer for continuing to shoot, continuing to attack,” Kirkpatrick said. “She was getting bumped down there, and that’s OK. That’s what we wanted. A physical game always favors us.”
Although Ohio State outscored Florida 42-30 in the paint, UF was much more efficient on the glass, outrebounding OSU 46-35.
The Gators, boosted by 20 offensive rebounds, outscored the Buckeyes 16-5 in second-chance points.
Ohio State had just six offensive boards, contributing to Florida’s 81.3 defensive rebounding percentage — 18.2 percentage points higher than its season average.
“We knew that we would have the inside advantage,” Kirkpatrick said.
After playing the underdog role against the Buckeyes, the Gators will do so again against Griner and the top-ranked Bears.
As one of the last four teams selected to the NCAA Tournament, Jones said Florida is motivated to pull a second upset Tuesday.
“Ohio State talked a lot about being disrespected (because of its low seeding),” Jones said. “ But we felt disrespected, too.”
A radio broadcast contributed to this report.
Contact Joe Morgan at [email protected].