As the third quarter came to a close during Florida’s win over Texas A&M last Thursday, junior Simone Westbrook lined up the period’s last shot.

Rather than finding someone else open or passing the ball and trying to get open herself, she faked right and cut back left, leaving her defender lunging at open air.

Having created separation, she put up her signature no-spin shot from NBA range as the buzzer sounded.

Swish.

Her basket triggered an eruption from the crowd, and after an emphatic first-pump, she was swarmed by her teammates.

It also triggered deja vu — Westbrook made a buzzer-beating shot to end the third quarter in Florida’s win over Kentucky on Jan. 31.

"It felt comfortable. Whether or not I do it in practice seriously or not, I do ‘em. I like those situations," Westbrook said of practicing buzzer beaters.

"It felt good."

That confidence has paid dividends for Westbrook and the team as of late. In UF’s last three games — all wins — Westbrook has scored in double figures, and many of those points came at crucial times.

Against Texas A&M, her final points of the game — which came on a shot clock-beating floater — turned out to be decisive.

But despite her recent success, Westbrook has been prone to inconsistency on offense for much of the season.

She’s shown the potential to take over a game from the beginning, but earlier in the season, she went through cold stretches.

While streaks in sports are normal — whether hot or cold — head coach Amanda Butler feels that Westbrook’s offensive ceiling has increased over the past few weeks.

"I just think she’s been getting in the gym and getting shots up. There’s just no substitute for that, no matter how much belief you have in yourself or confidence that your coaches or teammates try to share with you," Butler said.

"Simone has really done that the past couple days and the past couple weeks."

While Westbrook has produced on offense as of late, she’s produced on defense all season long.

She leads the team and is second in the conference in steals, racking up 2.4 per game.

That’s helped UF secure the SEC’s most steals per game, with 13.

"I like to get into the offensive players, get in their way, get into ‘em, really pressure them offensively and I like to challenge myself to see how many tips I can get a game," Westbrook said of her defensive efforts.

Aside from effort, Butler credits Westbrook’s defensive prowess to her natural quickness.

"We say that she’s got ninja hands, you know?" Butler said. "She’s just really, really fast and does a great job of getting tips and making plays."

Tonight, when the No. 16 Gators travel to Columbia, South Carolina, to take on the No. 2 Gamecocks at 7, they’ll need Westbrook to be a contributor on both ends of the floor once again to pull off the upset.

The Gamecocks are big and physical, with many of their points coming from down low. Defending two players who are 6-foot-4 or taller won’t be easy for UF, which has only one regular contributor who measures 6-foot-4.

Instead, the Gators will rely on the anticipation and quickness of Westbrook and others to shut down the potent South Carolina offense and pull off the upset.

"They’re going to get their points," sophomore forward Haley Lorenzen said of defending the Gamecocks, "but we want to make sure that they earn them."

Contact Ethan Bauer at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ebaueri

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.