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Thursday, February 29, 2024

The Gators talked all week about the opportunity a game with No. 17 Georgia held.

Full of momentum, they called it a chance to see where they matched up with one of the nation's best, one year removed from a disappointing 9-22 season, and playing at home, where they'd won eight straight.

Instead, UF (13-6, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) tried its hardest to imitate last year's team as Georgia (16-3, 3-2 SEC) dismantled them 82-55 Thursday, tying UF's largest margin of defeat this season.

"In SEC play, if you don't come ready, you're going to get embarrassed," UF coach Amanda Butler said. "If you don't come out and throw the first punch, you might find yourself lying flat on your back. That's what we did."

Senior guard and co-captain Depree Bowden didn't have much to say after a game like this.

"It's very disappointing," Bowden said. "We just couldn't get our offensive flow early."

Honestly, UF couldn't really get an offensive flow during any part of Thursday's game.

For a Gators team that prides itself on an up-tempo, high-octane offense - and was just a game removed from scoring a season-high 92 points - Thursday's near-season-low offensive output spoke as much to Georgia's stifling defense as it did UF's troubled offense.

"It's one thing to come out and play hard and play well. It's another thing to play hard and play well for 40 minutes," Georgia coach Andy Landers said. "That was the most impressive piece. We never let up."

The Bulldogs continued their dominance against the Gators. They have now won eight straight in the series and the victory snapped UF's home win streak. Coincidentally, the last time the Gators had an eight-game home winning streak, back in January of 2003, the Bulldogs ended that one as well.

Thursday's win was an extra special one for Landers, his 700th victory at Georgia.

"They all didn't come against Florida, did they?" Landers joked in the postgame press conference. "Is it 700 overall or 700 against Florida? … If we have Florida's number, that's a good team and a good school for us to have the number of."

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Georgia's dismantling of UF started around the 14-minute mark of the first half.

That's when the Bulldogs held the Gators scoreless for more than four minutes, allowing them to score 11 straight points.

After Jennifer Mossor scored to bring the score to 19-8, Georgia clamped down the defense again, keeping UF without a field goal for more than six and a half minutes.

"They're just aggressive and confident on the defense end, which is something that to this point is something I thought we had displayed," Butler said. "We weren't up on our toes enough. They expected to make plays. They expected to take the balls out of our hands."

Statistically, the first half was an offensive nightmare for the Gators.

They tied a season-low with 21 points, shot just 23.3 percent from the field and made only one of eight shots from behind the arc.

Those two scoreless droughts allowed Georgia to hold a 43-21 halftime lead, putting the game out of hand by the break.

"You can't dig a hole with a team that's that talented and fight back from that sort of a deficit," Butler said. "We just started the game way too timid."

It was so bad on both ends for UF that Georgia guard Ashley Houts matched UF's first-half output singlehandedly, scoring 21 of her career-high 25 points in the opening 20 minutes.

With teammate and All-American Tasha Humphrey stuck on the bench with two fouls, Houts put a bigger focus on looking for her own shot.

"That's been a common case this season, and my shot was kind of falling for me tonight," Houts said. "I was feeling good about it so I wasn't afraid to take it."

Landers called Houts' performance "incredible."

"Basketball is a game of opportunity," Landers said. "What Ashley did tonight was take advantage of the opportunities. She found the gaps. She found the seams. She got the ball deep and laid it up. Then when she was left open on the perimeter, [she] spotted up and shot it very, very well."

Now the Gators know where they rank in the SEC pecking order.

It's not pretty, but the game may serve as a reality check for Butler and her team.

They hope to learn something and use this as a positive moving forward.

"There's still a lot of ball games left to be played," Butler said. "A lot of times in a loss, things are revealed to you, where you're more vulnerable then maybe you realized."

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