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Friday, March 01, 2024

PHILADELPHIA - The UF women's basketball team had been here before.

The Gators had played well on the road but only in spurts and always let the victory slip through their fingers.

This time, up by 16 early in the second half with Temple gaining momentum and looking to make a run, UF did not let the game get away and held off the Owls for a 68-54 victory in its final nonconference game Saturday afternoon.

The Gators (11-4) gained plenty of confidence as they head into their Southeastern Conference opener Thursday, winners of seven straight and having taken the first step to quieting notions that they can?t achieve success on the road.

They did it without head coach Amanda Butler, who flew to her hometown of Mt. Juliet, Tenn., late Friday night to be with her sick grandmother.

Assistant coach Susie Gardner assumed head coaching responsibilities in Butler?s absence Saturday.

Gardner tried to keep past failures on the road out of the players? thoughts.

BWe tried to not make that a big deal for our players obviously,C she said. BWe looked at it more as keeping our winning streak healthy and then going into SEC play with momentum, which I think we did.C

But the Gators did have guard Sha Brooks, and the Owls (7-9) never found much of an answer for her.

The junior went off for a season-high 23 points in just 29 minutes, shooting 6-of-18 from the floor and going 10-of-10 from the free-throw line.

Gardner challenged Brooks to play well in front of Temple coach and former WNBA star Dawn Staley.

BI told her almost in jest before the game, 'Listen, Dawn Staley is down there, one of the best players to ever play the game,?C Gardner said. B'Make sure she knows who Sha Brooks is when you leave this court.?C

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Gardner?s motivational message was met with a smile, and Brooks showed her response on the floor as she slashed through the Temple defense throughout the night.

Had the junior not missed some easy fast-break layup opportunities, she may have surpassed her career high of 28 points.

Assistant coach Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick watched tape with Brooks earlier in the weekend and told her that she was settling for 3-pointers too often.

The junior took the message to heart.

B(My main goal was) just to attack the man and attack the zone and try to create something,C Brooks said. BIf I didn?t have the take all the way to the basket, there was the pitch out to the shooters and that?s what I tried to do.C

Gardner saw glimpses of the Brooks from last season, when the guard averaged over 15 points per game last season on her way to being named to the All-SEC second team.

But the junior averaged just 10.1 points per game coming into Saturday?s game and had scored fewer than 5 points in three contests this season, including the previous two.

BIt was good to see looking Sha more confident and looking more like Sha and attacking,C Gardner said. BShe?s the best free-throw shooter in the SEC. If she can continually get fouled and go 10-for-10, we?re going to have some success.C

The Gators opened the game with a 13-1 run, keeping the Owls without a field goal until the 13:19 mark of the first half.

BMy biggest fear tonight was not that they were prepared, but whether or not we would start strong,C Gardner said. BI feel like it was important for us being on the road. Even though we didn?t bring it up, they might have that in the back of our minds, that we can?t let this slip away.C

Temple would claw its way back into the game, scoring the last 5 points of the first half to cut the lead to 11.

The Owls would mix up their defensive schemes in the second half in an effort to thwart the Gators.

While UF committed only 14 turnovers on the night, there was a stretch in the second half where Temple scored 6 straight points and seemed to gain momentum with their full-court press.

It was the moment where the Gators had crumbled in the past on the road, allowing the home team to keep gaining control and cutting down the lead.

Saturday was different, however, as Gardner called a timeout and reminded her team that they were winning.

She said she saw a different look in the team?s eyes this time around, a confidence that hadn?t been there in the past.

BI do remember saying we are still in control,C Gardner said. BI told them don?t play not to lose. We had had leads in the past and tried to just hang on. I said let?s keep attacking.C

The Gators continued to attack the basket and held off the Owls charge by trading baskets back and forth and not allowing Temple to make a run.

Brooks hit a 3-pointer with 3:25 remaining to put UF up by 17 that seemed to close the door.

BWe faced adversity well,C said senior guard Depree Bowden, who had 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting. BWhen they made a run, we came back and answered.C

Brooks said the difference compared to the past 3 road losses was desire.

BWe just wanted it more,C Brooks said. BWe went out and played hard, played for Coach Butler. We just played our 'A? game.C

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