Erica A. Hernandez, ESPN Radio
It was senior night at the Stephen C. O’Connell center on Sunday Feb. 23. The Lady Gators opened up with their regular lineup, consisting of three seniors. The Gators defeated Georgia 61-57.
Senior shooting guard Jordan Jones, (Suwanee, Ga.), senior, point guard Lanita Bartley, senior, forward. (Jacksonville, Fla.) and senior center Azania Stewart (Wood Green, England) all took to their home court as part of the starting lineup for the Florida Gators for their second to last time.
This night was to be theirs, and they made sure of that. The “Beat Georgia” shirts had been distributed to fans, the anthem had been played, and as soon as the opening whistle rang the ball was theirs, if only for a little while.
The Bulldogs scored the first two points of the game and the Gators first numbers were from free throws but even with that rough start they were able to take ownership over their home court and head into half time with the lead, 27-25.
“Really really proud and happy for our team…. My prayer was, before the game that they get what they deserve and that is absolutely what happened today. This team, and in particular these seniors, got what they deserved,” head coach Amanda Butler said in regards to the team’s overall momentum after their loss to Vanderbilt.
Hopefully this much needed victory brings back some of that confidence that Butler has been working so hard to instill in her team throughout the season, especially after their crushing overtime loss to Vanderbilt on Thursday Feb. 23 in Nashville.
“A lesser team would have folded under what we’ve experienced…it brings the attention to this team that they deserve,” Butler said.
The Gators defeated the Lady Bulldogs during this season’s senior night. As both Butler and Georgia head coach Andy Landers mentioned in the post game press conference, the Lady Gators won the game with their rebounds. Florida posted a total of 42 rebounds Sunday, a whole ten ahead of Georgia.
“Against a great team, a physical team…that’s how you gotta win that battle, you gotta rebound with a little bit of a chip on your shoulder and that’s what we did,” butler said.
It was a close game through and through. The lead changed 15 times in the 40 minutes on the court and the score was tied nine times.
Though Sunday was senior night it was freshman guard Andrea Vilaró Aragonés (Barcelona, Spain) who was the star of the game. With a total of 10 points during her 25 minutes on the court, Aragonés shined. She broke her career high of eight points, which she set during the team’s last game in Nashville on Thursday.
She stayed humble even with her career-record breaking success. “Sometimes the ball goes in and sometimes it doesn’t…. I’m feeling good right now,” Aragonés said.
Continuing the trend of younger team members playing great games, junior forward Jennifer George (Orlando, Fla.) scored the highest total points of the night with 15 points.
Single digits have decided the last six games for the ladies and Sunday’s game was no different. Four points separated the two teams when the final buzzer rang. Single digits also decided Florida and Georgia’s previous match up on Jan. 12 where the Gators lost to the Bulldogs, 61-55.
It was a packed house in the O’Dome, with a season high attendance of 3,049. The fans were more than happy to support the ladies and during the last 30 seconds. Per the urging of coach Butler and Jones, the whole crowd was on their feet cheering on the ladies as they made their final rebounds and free throws.
“It was a great crowd and we love playing in front of them and I can’t say thank you enough. I wish I could thank every individual person who came. It was exciting to play our senior night game in front of a crowd like that,” Jones said.
Fans were treated to nostalgia as video compilations were screened after the game in honor of the five seniors: Jones, Stewart, Bartley and shooting guard Deana Allen (Houma, La.) who were joined by family members on the court. The Gators also signed autographs for the fans after the game.
“You always want to win on senior day…. Any opportunity to beat Georgia is huge and that’s a great win for us against ranked opponent, and momentum to build on for the future,” Jones said.
For their last home game of the season the Lady Gators will host Mississippi State in the O’Connell Center on Thursday Feb. 23 at 7 p.m.