The first half of Sunday afternoon’s game against No. 6 Tennessee looked different from most games the Florida women’s basketball team has played this year.
UF played with intensity and overcame early adversity.
The Gators (11-12, 3-7 Southeastern Conference) didn’t let the Volunteers run all over them, taking a 30-28 halftime lead into the break.
But with the team up 36-31, Florida went cold.
It was not the type of cold that comes from stifling defense or carelessness with the ball.
The Gators started taking contested jumpers and layups, with the team hesitant to make the extra pass to get a player open.
Ultimately, UF finished Sunday’s game making just 34.4 percent of its shots, marking the eighth time in the last 15 games Florida made less than 35 percent of its attempts.
Coach Amanda Butler said that part of the team’s development comes from evaluating what shots are there and executing the looks when they have them.
"It’s difficult because we do spend a lot of time on shot selection," Butler said. "We spend a lot of time off the court watching film, just really understanding what’s a good shot and what’s a bad shot. And that varies from individual to individual. Some shots we took last night weren’t necessarily bad shots, but we just had that spurt where we didn’t score."
That five-point cushion was quickly deflated by an 11-0 Tennessee (20-3, 10-0 SEC) run that destroyed any hope Florida had of playing spoiler to a ranked opponent.
And it wasn’t as if the Gators came out and started shooting three-pointers from halfcourt.
The scoring drought, that lasted almost five minutes, saw UF miss four layups before Ronni Williams cut the deficit to four with a layup of her own.
To Florida’s credit, the team found ways to get the ball inside for high-percentage opportunities to score.
But the Gators couldn’t convert their chances when it mattered most.
Butler attributed the failure to score close to the basket to the height differential the Volunteers had over Florida.
A height differential that was widened when the Gators learned the morning of the game that freshman forward Haley Lorenzen, the team’s second tallest player at 6-foot-3, would be unable to compete due to a concussion suffered in practice on Saturday.
"In that segment in particular in the second half when we had a little trouble doing what we wanted to do in the paint. …certainly it was a time when we felt the most missing Haley," Butler said. "But that’s part of the game as well, you know. Injuries and things are going to happen … and everybody else just has to use those opportunities to step up."
Florida is optimistic that Lorenzen is able to return on Thursday, when the Gators travel to Georgia to take on the No. 24 Bulldogs in Athens.
If not, Butler hopes the rest of the team carries the fight it brought against Tennessee to the next game, and for the rest of the season.
"I think despite the loss, we did generate a great deal of confidence by understanding what it felt like to fight for 40 minutes," Butler said. "You have to experience that to know what it feels like. And I really believe that (Sunday’s) effort was as close to a total effort in that regard that we’ve had all year long. And that’s what we have to build on and that’s what we have to take forward."
Follow Graham Hall on Twitter @Graham311
Amanda Butler calls out a play during Florida's 64-56 loss to No. 6 Tennessee on Feb. 8 in the O'Connell Center.