It came down to the last two minutes for Florida’s women’s basketball team (13-3, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) in Thursday night’s 59-52 win over No. 25 Arkansas (14-2, 1-2 SEC), extending its winning streak to nine games – including No.6 Kentucky on Sunday.
The Razorbacks pulled within one point after being down by 11 points with 6:37 remaining in the second half thanks to 12 of their final 18 points coming from freshman forward Jessica Jackson who posted a double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds. But big buckets by Florida redshirt junior guard Kayla Lewis and sophomore forward Christin Mercer forced Arkansas to extend the game by fouling.
Florida took advantage of the charity stripe down the stretch, going 8 of 9 in the final 43 seconds of play after previously shooting a meager 50 percent from the free throw line.
The most critical shots came with 27 seconds left on the clock when redshirt sophomore guard Cassie Peoples stepped to the line with Florida holding a three-point lead. At that point she was 0 of 9 from the field and had missed her only free-throw attempt.
Peoples drained both.
“I figured she’d hit it,” UF head coach Amanda Butler said. “We talk a lot about confidence, how we can generate confidence, how we can build confidence, how we can build trust and those sort of things. So if you’re in there at the end of the game we’ve got all the confidence in the world that you’re going to step up and hit those free throws.”
Butler’s faith in her squad didn’t waiver, even when they gave her reason to.
Florida shot 3 for 17 from 3-point range – 13.5 percentage points lower than its season average – however Butler didn’t want her players to shy away from the arc.
“We shoot the shots that we practice every day. If it’s a good three, pull the trigger. I want my team to be confident. I don’t want them to be hesitant,” Butler said. “This is basketball against a good team. Some nights they’re going to fall, some nights they’re not.”
Arkansas had difficulty from deep as well.
Razorbacks head coach Tom Collen said his team missed open 3-pointers en route to 6 of 20 shooting from downtown, five makes coming from freshman guard McKenzie Adams on her way to a 23 point night.
“I felt like we played well enough to win. I don’t think we played very good basketball,” Collen said. “We did take the lead at one time and certainly had some wide-open shots that would have kept us in the lead or tie the game back up and we missed those shots.”
Butler credited her team’s toughness and grit in finding a way to walk away with a victory.
“That’s what I see in this team is an extra measure of whatever it’s going to take for us to win,” Butler said. “I think we were just willing to do whatever it took.”
Florida will look to push the win steak to double digits when it takes the court next on Sunday in Baton Rouge, La., to face SEC opponent Louisiana State.
To hear more from the game, listen below.