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Sunday, August 01, 2021

Florida women's basketball defeats No. 12 Kentucky

<p>UF guard Simone Westbrook attempts a layup during Florida's 85-79 win over Kentucky on Jan. 31, 2016, in the O'Connell Center. </p>

UF guard Simone Westbrook attempts a layup during Florida's 85-79 win over Kentucky on Jan. 31, 2016, in the O'Connell Center. 

After the Florida women’s basketball game ended on Sunday afternoon, UF guard Simone Westbrook stood at center court awaiting her interview with SEC Network.

She not only led Florida (18-4, 6-3 Southeastern Conference) with a career-high 20 points, but she also led them to a 85-79 victory over highly touted No. 12 Kentucky (16-4, 4-5 SEC).

As she waited, fans called to her from the stands. But as she waved at them and did a gator chomp, one voice in the crowd stood out.

"I’m gonna be like you one day," a young fan screamed at Westbrook.

It was unclear whether or not Westbrook heard her. Regardless, it illustrated how well the Gators, and Westbrook in particular, played.

Coming off an overtime win at Arkansas, the bout with the Wildcats would once again come down to the final possession.

Down by three points with 17 seconds left, Kentucky inbounded only to have Florida force a jump ball.

The alternating possession favored Kentucky.

But on the next inbound, UF freshman Eleanna Christinaki stole the pass, took it coast-to-coast and finished with an easy layup for a game-icing score.

"I would be absolutely lying if I told you that is what we talked about during that little brief huddle," UF coach Amanda Butler said. "We do practice end-of -game, end-of-quarter scenarios all the time and we did happen to practice that exact one. … We expected to make a play."

On Sunday, Florida’s precise passing and patience on the offensive end created scoring opportunities.

And the Gators took advantage.

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Their 85 points tied their output against Ole Miss for the most points scored in Southeastern Conference play this season.

"We made good decisions, we were a little bit more patient with our passes," Butler said. "But our field goal percentage definitely reflects good defense and better shot selection."

Florida forced 30 Kentucky turnovers, tied with UF’s game against Missouri for the most turnovers forced by the Gators in SEC play this season. Those turnovers led to 24 Florida points.

"Florida had a great gameplan of trying to confuse us and force us into mistakes," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said.

In addition to Westbrook’s 20 points, three other Gators scored in double figures, including sophomore Haley Lorenzen.

The Iowa City, Iowa, native was 9-of-14 from the field for 18 points. Normally more of a post presence, she also knocked down several jump shots in the win.

"Because of people attacking the paint and stuff, I really just got some good, open looks," Lorenzen said.

Christinaki and senior Carla Batchelor also contributed 12 points apiece, with Christinaki scoring most of hers late.

After starting the game shooting 1-of-8, she made all four of her remaining shots and notched a team-leading 11 assists to provide the spark that preserved the victory.

But aside from individual performances, Florida’s general aggression helped more than anything.

In the game’s first three minutes, the Gators forced three jump balls and forced more as the game went on.

"They played so hard, so tenacious," Mitchell said of the Gators. "Really, really tough on 50-50 balls — they were the aggressor there. And in this kinda game, you have to win that battle if you’re gonna win the game."

Florida’s next challenge will be just as daunting, as the No. 10 Texas A&M Aggies come to town on Thursday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the O’Connell Center.

Contact Ethan Bauer at ebauer@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @ebaueri

UF guard Simone Westbrook attempts a layup during Florida's 85-79 win over Kentucky on Jan. 31, 2016, in the O'Connell Center. 

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