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Thursday, May 23, 2024

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Alexis Hornbuckle's no-look pass missed its intended recipient - Candace Parker cutting down the lane - and instead landed in the hands of teammate Angie Bjorklund, who sank a wide-open 3-pointer from the right wing.

Hornbuckle just threw up her hands and shrugged as she ran back on defense.

It was that kind of day for No. 3 Tennessee, who used a 26-4 second-half surge to rout UF 92-61 Friday afternoon. The win puts the second-seeded Volunteers (28-2) in the Southeastern Conference tournament semifinals for the 15th straight year. The Gators (18-13) extended their losing streak against ranked opponents to 15 in their largest defeat of the season.

As if facing talent-rich Tennessee wasn't enough, UF lost its leading scorer and rebounder, junior forward Marshae Dotson, less than seven minutes into the game to a sprained left knee. Dotson drove to the basket and went up for a layup in a crowded paint and fell to the floor. Parker helped Dotson up before the junior limped to the bench, not to be seen on the court again.

"When I saw Marshae go down, I knew me and Sha (Brooks) would have to step up, and people off the bench would have to step it up as well," said UF senior guard Depree Bowden, who scored 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting. "It affected our low-post game because some people weren't used to playing minutes."

Tennessee dominated down low in Dotson's absence, outscoring UF 38-20 in the paint, behind Parker's game-high 26 points. Point guard Shannon Bobbitt ran the offense with efficiency, especially in transition, scoring 22 points and dishing six assists. The Volunteers held a 30-4 advantage in fast-break points, many of which came in transition off a UF basket.

"They generate their own momentum," UF coach Amanda Butler said. "We missed assignments, and I didn't feel like our communication and our defensive transition was what it should have been."

UF trailed right away after Tennessee scored the first 7 points, but the Gators would answer with 7 of their own. Tennessee used a 12-1 run late in the first half to hold a 48-33 halftime lead. After intermission, Bobbitt keyed Tennessee's game-changing run with back-to-back 3-pointers.

"Before the game (Tennessee senior) Nicky Anosike pulled us all together and said we didn't start off the tournament last year well at all, and that it set the tone for our loss to LSU in the semifinals last year," Parker said. "We just decided to play with a lot of energy, and we played a 40-minute game."

The loss likely marks the end of UF's NCAA Tournament hopes and instead the Gators will probably see postseason action in the Women's National Invitational Tournament.

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