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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Sometimes it just feels good to survive and live to play another day.

That's the UF mentality after a 60-55 escape at home Monday against a Florida Gulf Coast team that it defeated by 26 back in December.

Despite leading by 14 with 13:34 left in the game, it took a Marshae Dotson offensive rebound with 19 seconds left to secure the Gators' victory.

"I was just sitting there watching, like, 'Oh, please grab that ball because we needed that rebound,'" said sophomore guard Jennifer Mossor, who finished with a team-high 14 points but missed the shot that led to Dotson's rebound. "That was huge for us."

After the rebound, junior guard Sha Brooks (12 points) iced the game with two free-throws that put UF (19-13) up by 5 with 17 seconds remaining. UF advances to play North Carolina State in a third-round matchup in Raleigh, N.C. on Thursday. The Gators improved to 10-3 in games decided by 6 points or less on a night when they shot 1 of 17, or 5.9 percent, from behind the 3-point line.

Florida Gulf Coast (22-9) played much differently than the team that allowed 6-foot-3 Aneika Henry to score 17 points during the regular-season matchup. Henry played just nine minutes Monday and scored only 2 points before fouling out with 6:08 to play.

"You have to give them some credit for creating those situations where (Henry) may or may not have fouled," UF coach Amanda Butler said. "It's tough for Aneika to defend a kid that's 5'8", 5'9", 5'10", just as it's tough for one of their kids to defend her on the low block. I thought that was the great adjustment from first game to this game. We weren't as able to get the ball as easily inside to Aneika."

The Eagles are the first team in history to earn a WNIT berth in their first season of Division I play but could not pull off the upset Monday

"We are a much different team now [as opposed to December]," Florida Gulf Coast coach Karl Smesko said. "We still have lapses in play that were too long to win the game. But the first time we played, our lapses were for much longer periods of time. Florida is too good to make too many mistakes."

UF came out rusty in its first game after a 17-day layoff and trailed by as many as 7 early. But Florida Gulf Coast went without a field goal for a nine-minute stretch from the late part of the first half through to the beginning of the second, allowing the Gators to build a double-digit advantage.

Questionable foul calls abounded Monday night and forced Butler to shuffle her lineup on many occasions. Dotson played just 21 minutes, including only 9 of the opening 20 after picking up two first-half fouls. Butler used 5-foot-7 Kim Critton as a post player, and Critton responded with 5 points and seven rebounds in 15 minutes of play.

Florida Gulf Coast made a furious late-game comeback, using a 15-6 run to cut the lead to 54-53 with 2:25 remaining. Back-to-back jumpshots by Depree Bowden and Sharielle Smith put the Gators up 5 with 1:20 to go before the final possessions played out.

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But this is the postseason, and all that matters is UF advanced and will play again Thursday.

"You don't get any credit for losing pretty or losing close," Butler said. "Just get the win and get ready for that next one no matter what today's game looked like."

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