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Sunday, June 16, 2024

A chance for redemption.

That's what the Gators (14-6, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) will hope for when they host Vanderbilt (14-6, 3-2 SEC) Thursday at 7 p.m. in the beginning of a three-game home stretch.

A week ago, UF lost by 27 points to rival Georgia in front of the largest non-doubleheader crowd to pack the O'Connell Center this season.

Though the Gators rebounded with a win at South Carolina, they now want to get a big win in front of their home supporters Thursday.

"Hopefully we'll still have our fans there to support us," UF forward Marshae Dotson said. "We're pretty disappointed about the loss to Georgia here at home. Hopefully, we can bounce back from there and pull out the W."

If UF does get a victory, Dotson will likely play a big part, matching up against Vanderbilt's key post players, Christina Wirth and Liz Sherwood.

The 6-foot-1 Wirth leads the Commodores with 13.2 points per game and makes 48.6 percent of her shots from the field, including 42.3 percent from behind the arc.

The junior plays a team-high 31.3 minutes per game but has more than capable help should she need a rest.

Sherwood, a 6-foot-4 senior averaging 12.7 points per game, leads the nation in field goal percentage with a mark of 69.5 percent.

Though Sherwood started 13 games during the nonconference schedule, she reverted to being the first substitute off the bench for SEC play. She has excelled in such a role throughout her career, having been named the SEC Sixth Woman of the Year for the last two years.

The Commodores cause an interesting problem for opponents, as they rank high in the SEC in both field goal percentage (first at 48.2 percent) and defensive field goal percentage (second at 36.3 percent). They also rank third in the league in scoring margin, scoring an average of 15.7 more points per game than their opponents.

Part of UF's struggles against Georgia last week came from their inability to get anything going against the Bulldogs' aggressive defense.

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The Commodores will look to give the Gators similar fits with their patented zone defense, which they have had success with for years, UF coach Amanda Butler said.

Vanderbilt does start two freshmen, so UF will try and rile the young team playing on the road. It has been an inconsistent season for the Commodores, who have knocked off two ranked teams (Georgia and Duke, both at home), but their résumé also contains a loss at Indiana State and a home defeat to Colorado.

With nine league games remaining and No. 8 LSU coming to town Sunday, the Gators know they still need to try and get every win they can to stay in NCAA Tournament contention.

"It gives us a chance to prove that we are a good team despite the fact we lost to Georgia," junior guard Sha Brooks said. "We can pick up the intensity, pick up the defense and pick up the slack where we left off last time we played at home."

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