Before Friday’s matchup against Vanderbilt, team captain Jordan Jones said the Gators needed to grow up.
If their trip to Nashville, Tenn., is any indication, maybe they have.
The Florida women’s basketball team shrugged off a one-day weather delay, escaping Memorial Gym with a 74-69 victory, a win coach Amanda Butler deemed special.
“There’s just a lot of reasons [why it’s special],” Butler said. “There’s a long, long list.”
With the win, Florida avenged a 103-97 double overtime loss to the Commodores just more than two weeks ago.
And after allowing an 11-point second half lead to shrivel down to two, the Gators finally held on to win a closely contested game. Florida’s played 13 games decided by six points or less, and Friday’s contest marked just the fifth time it came out victorious.
The Gators (16-13, 6-9 Southeastern Conference) improved their standing in the SEC, moving into eighth overall heading into next week’s conference tournament.
But they couldn’t have done it without team captains Azania Stewart and Jones.
After getting throttled in the post in the previous meeting, Stewart said the Gators needed to be prepared. She answered her own call, scoring Florida’s first eight points in the paint to start the game.
The Gators shot just 21 percent in the first half, and Stewart (14 points and 11 rebounds) accounted for half of the team’s baskets from the floor.
Vanderbilt (18-10, 9-6 SEC) overcame a five-point deficit to take a one-point advantage heading into the break, but then UF came out on fire. After just eight buckets in the opening 20 minutes, Florida connected on 18 in the second half, shooting 60 percent. For the second straight game, the Gators scored 50-plus points after intermission.
Jones’ clutch shooting was a big reason why. Repeatedly, Jones crushed Vandy’s comeback hopes with daggers from long range, finishing with a team-high 16 points, hitting 4-of-7 from behind the arc.
Thursday’s severe weather that delayed the game allowed Florida an additional shoot-around, something Butler attributed to its second-half shooting success.
“We’ve shot more shots in this gym than any gym we’ve played in,” Butler said she told her team at the half. “Those shots are going to fall. Be confident. Take it.”
Guard Lanita Bartley listened, leading the Gators down the stretch, scoring 13 of her 15 points in the second half.
Bartley also notched seven assists and six rebounds on the night, and made four clutch free throws with less than a minute to play
“I think Nita is playing her best basketball of the year right now,” Butler said. “She just made some shots that got up to the rim that I just don’t even know how they happened … Actually, that’s not true, it’s her sheer will. She’s a great competitor, and she wasn’t going to let us lose.”