After a back-and-forth first-half affair, the Florida’s women’s basketball team (16-6, 6-3 SEC) poured it on in the ensuing 20 minutes to walk out of Oxford, Mississippi with its biggest SEC victory this season in an 81-60 win over conference cellar dweller Ole Miss (10-13, 1-8 SEC) on Super Bowl Sunday.
Historically, Super Bowl Sunday has been good for Florida as the Gators have won four of five games played on that day under coach Amanda Butler.
With the Gators leading 33-31 at the half and trailing by six in the rebounding column, they went on a 17 to 1 run early in the second half and flipped the rebounding stats on the Rebels.
It was a lead they would not surrender.
“I don’t even think just the start, I thought the first 20 minutes of basketball was below where we needed to be playing intensity wise, energy wise, our level of awareness,” Butler said. “We weren’t playing poorly, but we weren’t playing as well as we needed to play. So really proud of the response out of the locker room and the adjustments, especially some individuals made.”
It was strong play from redshirt junior Kayla Lewis – 19 points and 14 rebounds in her sixth double-double this season – and sophomore Antoinette Bannister who notched a season-high 18 points on 53 percent shooting including three from downtown.
“I think that (Bannister’s) a shooter at heart,” Butler Said. “She’s a ball player and she can pass the ball and make plays, but I think that when she felt good and the ball felt good off of her hand behind the three-point line I think that just fueled the whole rest of her ball game.”
Florida has relied heavily on Lewis’ scoring and presence in the paint since the indefinite suspension of sophomore forward Christin Mercer last month. And Lewis has answered the call.
She hasn’t been alone in the collective effort to replace the nearly 12 points and six rebounds per game Mercer was contributing. Senior forward Lily Svete has stepped her game up averaging nine points on 48.7 percent shooting since Mercer’s departure – three points and almost 10 percentage points better than her season average.
The Gators managed to tie the Rebels in rebounds at 42, a battle that is always a glaring challenge for their undersized roster.
“We take great pride in making smaller better than bigger,” Butler said. “We want to play with the same level of intensity and most importantly the same level of expectation.”
Her squad definitely brought that intensity to Oxford, and will look to continue its three-game win streak on Thursday on the road against Arkansas and Sunday when No. 13 Kentucky comes to town looking to avenge last month’s loss to Florida.
To hear more from Amanda Butler, click below.