Rebounding the ball was not an issue on Thursday night for the Gators, but rebounding from their current losing streak is.
In front of a crowd of 10,541 in Thompson-Boling Arena, Florida dropped its third consecutive Southeastern Conference contest to No. 11 Tennessee (15-4, 4-2 SEC), losing 89-69.
The Lady Volunteers were sharp offensively on the night, shooting 50.8 percent from the field and 10 of 21 from three-point range.
Senior guard Meighan Simmons spearheaded the Lady Volunteers’ offensive effort, scoring a game-high 21 points, thanks to a 5-of-10 performance from beyond the arc.
“They had some kids that stepped up and hit shots that don’t typically do that,” coach Amanda Butler said.
“That’s always subject to happen when you’re playing such a talented team. Meighan Simmons hitting five though, that’s not a surprise. We didn’t do a very good job. We were in a situation where sometimes had to play them in zone and just didn’t do a good job with the level of awareness. She gets it off very quick and she’s going to make you pay if she gets a good look.”
Things got out of hand early for the Gators (13-6, 3-3 SEC), who fell behind 20-8 with 13:32 remaining in the first half.
At halftime, the Volunteers were leading 40-27, and UF was 0 of 8 from three-point range.
“There were parts of the game that we just didn’t play well,” Butler said.
“I know that may be oversimplifying it, but there were times when we took bad shots or shots that didn’t appear we believed in.”
Things did not get any easier for Butler’s team in the second half.
Fewer than five minutes in, the Lady Vols stretched their lead to 19 points with the score at 53-34.
Despite Florida’s valiant effort to get within eight points of Tennessee with 11:20 remaining in the game, the Gators fell apart, ultimately losing by a 20-point margin.
Florida committed only four more turnovers than Tennessee and also was within one rebound of the Lady Volunteers.
“We didn’t have a ton of turnovers, but it seemed like we had them at crucial times,” Butler said.
Tennessee had a considerable size advantage on Florida and was ranked third in the nation in rebound margin heading into Thursday night’s affair. Although the Gators lost the rebounding battle, it was only by a total of 38-37.
“I guess we can take some consolation in that,” Butler said. “Part of what we wanted to do was try to neutralize that rebounding.
“Again, the rebounds that we gave up seemed to be so timely. When we were fighting back, we cut the lead all the way back to single digits. And then just to give up such big plays like that in the paint was really difficult.”
Florida has now found itself in the midst of a three-game losing streak, which happens to come off the heels of a nine-game winning streak.
A key factor in the current slide could be the absence of suspended sophomore forward Christin Mercer. Mercer has not played since Florida’s home win over Arkansas — its last victory before the current skid — leaving the Gators with only eight active players.
A radio broadcast contributed to this report.
Follow Gordon Streisand on Twitter @GordonStreisand
Coach Amanda Butler and guard Carlie Needles stand on the sideline during Florida’s 68-62 loss to Georgia on Sunday in the O’Connell Center. Needles scored six points on two three-point shots in Florida’s 89-69 loss to Tennessee on Thursday at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn.