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Monday, March 04, 2024

The scoring came from everywhere.

The Gators had four players score in double-figures in their 66-52 victory against Holy Cross in the opening round of the State Farm Classic Friday night.

UF (8-4) faces Alabama A&M, 66-63 winners against UNC-Asheville on Friday, in the finals Saturday at 7.

It will be the teams? first-ever meeting, and the Gators have now made the finals all 17 years of the tournament?s existence.

Guards Sha Brooks and Depree Bowden led the team with 15 points apiece and forward Marshae Dotson added 12.

Forward Sharielle Smith had one of her best games of the year, scoring 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting. The sophomore?s three 3-pointers set a new career high.

BHer scoring was also very timely,C UF coach Amanda Butler said. BIt came at times when we were having it felt like a little bit of a drought. So they were big, big shots.C

One of the most important contributors to the win was the team?s defense. The Gators allowed the second-fewest points against them all season while forcing three charges and a shot clock violation along the way.

BWe were able to disrupt defensively and apply a lot of ball pressure,C Butler said. BThat?s what the game plan was.C

The Gators controlled the boards, grabbing 48 rebounds - two off their season high - with Holy Cross only getting 33. UF tallied 20 offensive rebounds and allowed Holy Cross to gather only five.

BYou?ve got to be proud as a coach of that,C Butler said.

Holy Cross coach Bill Gibbons said the 26-12 first-half rebounding advantage UF held led to his team?s demise.

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BWe just gave them too many second-half opportunities,C Gibbons said.

The Gators opened the game with intensity, scoring the first 7 points and keeping the Crusaders from making a field goal for the first 2:50 of the game.

UF had a scare early on when Bowden tweaked her ankle while chasing a rebound in the opening five minutes. Bowden would come back minutes later and did not favor the leg during the rest of the game.

The junior said she got it retaped at halftime and it did not bother her the rest of the way.

Holy Cross closed the gap to within 5 midway through the first half, but the Gators widened the margin by holding the Crusaders without a field goal for 9:09 to enter the break up by 18, their largest halftime margin of the season.

Bowden said more talk made the difference for the UF defense.

BWe were talking on screens,C Bowden said. BThey were screening a lot, and we were just communicating more.C

After halftime, the Crusaders gained early momentum by hitting shots and forcing misses at the end, closing the gap to 8 with 14:53 remaining.

Brooks sank a 3-pointer at the 11:47 mark to open the lead back up to 14 and Holy Cross would not pose a serious threat for the rest of the game.

Foul trouble bothered the UF post players again as both Dotson and Aneika Henry played with three fouls for the final 12 minutes.

Sophomore guard Jennifer Mossor returned to the lineup after missing the last game due to an abdominal strain. Mossor went scoreless in 12 minutes of action, missing all five of her shots from the field.

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