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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Depree Bowden knew something had to change.

UF's lone senior had just 3 points in the women's basketball team's 2-point loss at Kentucky on Thursday.

Sunday was a different story.

Bowden had 14 of her 18 points and all five of her steals in the second half as the Gators won their home conference opener 80-65 against Alabama.

"I had to find a different way to score," Bowden said. "I just told myself, deny the ball and try to get steals. I wasn't aggressive in the Kentucky game. I knew I had to be aggressive this game."

Bowden had plenty of help as the Gators' three post players - Aneika Henry, Marshae Dotson and Sharielle Smith - combined for 41 points and 14 rebounds.

The 6-foot-3-inch Henry made an especially big impact early on in the game, scoring 8 first-half points as UF (12-5, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) looked to make her a presence inside.

"They just started throwing it to the rafters and she did a good job fielding the ball and sticking it in the basket, which is something that she hasn't consistently done, but it really caused us problems," Alabama coach Stephany Smith said. "We just didn't have an answer for that."

UF coach Amanda Butler said it was part of the team's game plan to try and establish post play early.

"We always want to try to attack the paint first and then let our game grow from there," Butler said. "I just thought Aneika did some tremendous things from an individual standpoint. She caught some really tough passes. She came down with some balls with a defender in front of her and behind her. I just thought she played with a lot of confidence. When she caught the ball, she expected to score, and that makes all the difference in the world."

UF has won eight straight at home, and Sunday's 15-point margin was the largest in a conference win since March 2, 2006, when the Gators defeated Mississippi State 98-83 in the opening round of the SEC Tournament.

After trailing by 16 in the first half, Alabama (8-9, 1-1 SEC) cut the lead to 8 with 10:07 remaining.

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The next two minutes would be when Bowden single-handedly put the Crimson Tide away.

UF outscored Alabama 11-0 over that span, and the senior had 9 of those points including her only 3-pointer of the game, bringing the crowd to its feet and killing any hope Alabama had of keeping it close.

The game also featured a look back at the program's past during a special halftime presentation.

More than 20 alumni were honored and the "Golden Gators" - 11 former members of UF's dance team - performed to a medley of older hit songs.

The alumni also got a chance to interact with the players during the team's pregame breakfast.

Butler used the reunion as motivation for the team during the week.

"We didn't want to let them down, that's for sure," she said. "We talked a lot about it in practice, about them being here and representing them in a way they deserve to be represented and I think we did that."

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