Following Florida’s win over Vanderbilt on Thursday, head coach Amanda Butler referenced traveling to Athens on Sunday to take on Georgia.
Hearing Butler, freshman Eleanna Christinaki, a native of Athens, Greece, became excited.
But UF’s coach crushed her spirits when she told her there’s also an Athens in Georgia, and that the team would not be traveling to Greece.
The difference between making the trip to her homeland and playing in a hostile road environment showed on Sunday, as Christinaki and the Gators were anything but right at home. And for the second time this year, No. 22 Florida fell to Georgia, this time 74-63.
While Christinaki came into the game as UF’s leading scorer, junior Ronni Williams was UF’s leader on Sunday. Despite playing just 22 minutes after picking up three fouls in the first quarter, Christinaki’s nine points were good for second on the team.
But it wasn’t just Christinaki who struggled to get going. Aside from Williams’ team-leading 18 points, the normally potent UF offense was largely shut down by the Bulldogs.
"You have to give Georgia a lot of credit," Butler said in a release. "They played tremendous defense and they make you, if you’re not really diligent about what you’re doing, take compromising shots in really big moments and you can’t do that, especially on their home court."
On the other side, two Bulldogs carried Georgia.
Tiaria Griffin and Shacobia Barbee scored 28 and 20 points respectively, adding a combined 16 rebounds and seven assists. Griffin was particularly accurate from three, knocking in 6-of-10 shots from beyond the arc.
"We were mixing up our man and our zone (defense), which is something we typically do, especially when there is one really, really impressive shooter that we are concerned with," Butler said of her team’s defensive breakdowns. "They have very well-rounded players. We felt like in zone we could guard one person but obviously that was a poor decision."
But those defensive breakdowns were not a glaring problem until the second half.
In the first half, the Gators jumped out to a lead as large as nine and carried the lead into halftime.
Then in the second half, Griffin scored all six of her threes, which included Georgia’s first nine points of the fourth quarter.
Florida (20-7, 8-6 Southeastern Conference) sits even with Georgia (20-7, 8-6 SEC) in the conference standings. With two games left until the SEC tournament, the Gators’ chances at securing a first and second round bye — which goes to the top four seeds — are still very possible, with current 3-seed Mississippi State’s SEC record sitting at 8-5.
The first of those two games will be against LSU this Thursday in Baton Rouge against a Tiger team that lost to the Gators earlier this year. But as far as that game and the regular season finale having any added significance, Butler wasn’t hearing of it.
"They are all must-win games. I really don’t like that term to describe a game" she said.
"There isn’t a game we go into that we think, ‘we’ll it’s no big deal if we lose this one.’ They’re all big games."
UF forward Ronni Williams goes for a layup during Florida's 53-45 win against LSU on Jan. 17, 2016, in the O'Connell Center.