Erica A. Hernandez, ESPN Radio
The Florida women’s basketball team celebrated Senior Night in style with a 79-45 blowout of the Mississippi State Bulldogs at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on Thursday night. Head coach Amanda Butler emptied the bench as all 10 Gators players scored, led by senior Jordan Jones, who finished with 18 points.
Ready and capable, they accomplished nothing less than what they set out to do. Even though the Bulldogs were the first to posses the ball after tipoff, the Gators were the first to score. The Lady Gators were able to hold onto that lead throughout the entire game. At no point were the two teams tied or did Mississippi hold the lead.
Every single player who dressed for the game scored, making this final win at a home a true team effort. Beyond scoring, Florida showed great performance in rebounding with 51 total rebounds.
“To have no letdown after the big win on Sunday, to really just show a lot of maturity and poise going forward. Again this is how we like to win,” head coach Amanda Butler said.
Thursday’s game was the last time that shooting guard Jordan Jones, (Suwanee, Ga.), forward Lanita Bartley (Jacksonville, Fla.), center Azania Stewart (Wood Green, England), forward Ndidi Madu (Antioch, Tenn.), and shooting guard Deana Allen (Houma, La.) would play at the O’Dome for Florida. The five seniors play well the entire night and coach Butler put them all on the floor together during the last two minutes of the game to send them off right.
Jones contributed the highest amount of points for the Gators Thursday night. With 18 total points and six of the team’s nine three-point shots, which tied her career high for three pointers.
“Everyone on the team is spending more time in the gym then ever since I have been here…were shooting 100 free throws a day and getting a lot of shots up…you know it’s a credit to that,” Jones said.
With about 15 seconds remaining on the clock Jones scored her sixth 3-pointer of the night, sending her team and the fans into cheers as the score solidified with a 34-point lead for the Gators.
“There was no doubt in my mind, it was just only matter of time…you couldn’t script it any better for the way that game was going to end for us seniors,” Jones said of the play.
Junior forward Jennifer George (Orlando, Fla.) ranked No. 8 in the country in field goal percentage and double-doubles has played consistently well this season and she continued this trend on the court Thursday night. Though she didn’t achieve her usual double-double but George clocked 12 total points and eight rebounds.
“Just trying to help George tonight, I think George was doing such a great job during such great defense,” Stewart said of her teammate’s performance.
Stewart posted her second double-double of the year with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
“Great four years under Amanda Butler and at the University of Florida, but now it’s time to go on and start our run in the SEC,” Stewart went on to say.
Nostalgia was a prevalent emotion on Thursday night and there was even talk of tears amongst Jones and Stewart in the post-game press conference but the ladies are putting their emotions aside and gearing up for one of their last shots at proving themselves worthy of a NCAA tournament spot when they play top ranked Tennessee this Sunday.
“Obviously there is still work to do and there’s still chances to get work done on the biggest stage in college basketball, that and the SEC tournament,” Jones said. “I know if I’m another team Florida is not a team I would want to play, I think were a scary team with how good we can be.”
Fans are hoping the ladies show just how good they can be when they play Tennessee, who recently lost to the Arkansas Razorbacks in overtime on Feb. 23. For their last game of the season the Gators will travel to Knoxville to play the Lady Volunteers on Sunday Feb. 26 at 3:30 p.m.
“I think this team is very very deserving…. There is still opportunities and still games to play, and that’s what we have got to be focused on,” Butler said.
Erica A. Hernandez is a first year journalism major at the University of Florida. Erica covers Florida women's basketball for ESPN Radio (Gainesville/Ocala). Erica is a national and local university chapter member of the Society of Professional Journalists. Follow her on Twitter @ericaalyssa