For the first time in almost two months, Elif Portakal laced up her sneakers, pulled on her uniform and stepped onto a court to play in a women’s college basketball game.
The freshman guard from Istanbul, Turkey, returned to the hardwood on Sunday afternoon for the Gators after missing the team's previous 10 contests with a foot injury.
Portakal’s stat line might not have been anything special, totaling just three points and one rebound in seven minutes of action. However, her impact in helping Florida (10-9, 1-5 SEC) win its first conference game this year against Georgia can’t be seen by examining a box score.
Portakal’s return to a depleted UF roster, one that’s had only eight active players since Dec. 11, provides the Gators depth and energy at the point guard position, something they’ve woefully been lacking since SEC play began.
After senior Simone Westbrook tore her ACL, sophomore Eleanna Christinaki left the program and Portakal broke a bone in her foot, Florida was forced to use junior Dyandria Anderson, a natural off-guard, to run its offense.
While Anderson has been serviceable, averaging 4.5 assists per game this season to rank third in the conference, she’s had to shoulder a physically taxing amount of playing time as well, averaging 35.3 minutes per game over UF’s first six SEC contests.
With Portakal back in the fold, however, Anderson is afforded a competent backup who can also give Florida quality minutes handling point guard duties, as she did on Sunday.
“She was outstanding,” assistant coach Shimmy Gray-Miller said of Portakal. “Those minutes were huge because she did great things while she was in there. She was aggressive. She attacked right away.”
Portakal needed just nine seconds to make her presence felt against the Bulldogs.
After stepping onto the court at the 5:13 mark of the second quarter with the Gators trailing 24-22, Portakal received a pass at the top of the key and fearlessly drove down the right side of the lane toward the basket.
She was unable to convert the layup attempt, but she drew enough contact from Georgia’s Simone Costa to earn a trip to the free-throw line, sending UF’s bench into a frenzy.
Despite making only one of her two shots from the charity stripe, Portakal’s sudden boost of energy sparked an 11-4 run for Florida, including a fastbreak layup from the Turkey native herself at the 2:20 mark of the period.
“That was just awesome,” Gray-Miller said. “It was a great confidence builder for the entire team but especially for (Anderson)."
Anderson, meanwhile, tied her career high of 13 points against the Bulldogs to go along with six rebounds, four assists and two steals.
But while the junior played an integral role in the win and deserves praise for her performance, Gray-Miller is quick to point out the impact Portakal’s return had as well.
“She was able to give (Anderson) a break,” Gray-Miller said. “So when she was able to go back in, we were able to get even more out of (Anderson). So that’s huge.”
UF guard Dyandria Anderson dribbles the ball in Florida's 81-62 loss to South Carolina on Jan. 8, 2017, in the O'Connell Center.