After riding a rocket of momentum earlier in the week, Florida’s women’s basketball team fell back to earth on Thursday night.
Plagued mainly by poor shooting, the No. 20 Gators (14-3, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) dropped a disappointing 71-61 decision to the Georgia Bulldogs (13-4, 1-3 SEC) in the O’Connell Center.
The Gators started out strong by scoring the game’s first points. Beyond that, however, Georgia controlled the game from start to finish.
Florida’s normally high-octane offense, which averaged 85.3 points per game coming into Thursday’s matchup, was anything but potent against the Bulldogs.
From contested shots to open looks to desperation heaves, absolutely nothing was falling for Florida. The Gators shot 33.8 percent from the field.
After the game, coach Amanda Butler chalked her team’s shooting struggles up to a combination of factors.
"I don’t want to take any credit away from (Georgia’s) defense," she said, "but our shot selection was very poor."
UF has played well in the fourth quarter all season, and Thursday night was no different. As the end drew closer, the Gators started playing better.
The spark that ignited UF’s comeback was due to the team’s veteran leadership, aided by redshirt senior Cassie Peoples, who finished with a team-high 15 points including eight in the fourth quarter.
And midway through the third quarter, trailing 42-25, Butler called her team over during a timeout. But instead of talking to the team herself, she left that responsibility to redshirt senior guard Carlie Needles.
"She wanted to try and inspire the people who were gonna be on the floor in that particular situation," Butler said. "It’s one of the things that makes her special, but it’s also one of the things we didn’t do for 40 minutes tonight."
Following the timeout, UF seemed to click.
Slowly but surely, the Gators started to trim at the deficit.
But like in their two losses earlier in the season, the deficit was too much to overcome. There wasn’t enough offense and, ultimately, there wasn’t enough time.
While UF’s offense was lacking, its effort was not. The Gators fought to the bitter end, even when confronted with the realization that a comeback was out of their reach.
For Butler, Florida’s effort was no surprise.
"I totally expected that," she said of her team’s late comeback.
"That’s who we are. That fight, that toughness and that never-say die attitude."
While the game marked the end of a two-game SEC winning streak for Florida, it marked a new beginning for Georgia.
Georgia’s 12-4 record looked good at face value, but with three SEC losses in their first three tries, the Bulldogs badly needed a win against a conference foe.
Georgia coach Joni Taylor credited her team’s ability to get to the free throw line as the main difference in Thursday's game as compared to her team’s previous SEC defeats.
"We tried to really focus on attacking, playing an inside-out game, and not just relying on the three ball," she said.
For Florida, which came into Thursday’s game ranked in the Associated Press top-25 for the first time in seven years, the loss was a wake-up call. But junior forward Ronni Williams said the wake-up call won’t be one the Gators will sleep on.
"As a team, we do a great job of making sure we stay on top of each other. It’s all about accountability," she said.
"And when we hold each other accountable, we get the result we want."
Follow Ethan Bauer on Twitter @ebaueri
UF women’s basketball coach Amanda Butler calls out to guard Eleanna Christinaki at the end of the first half of Florida’s 71-61 loss to Georgia on Jan. 14, 2016, in the O’Connell Center.