published Monday, January 14th, 2013

No. 9 Lady Vols top Gators in OT

Tennessee's Taber Spani (13) and Tennessee guard Kamiko Williams (4) crowd Florida's Sydney Moss (40) during the first half of an NCAA basketball game in Gainesville, Fla., Sunday. Tennessee took the win with a score of 78-75.
Tennessee's Taber Spani (13) and Tennessee guard Kamiko Williams (4) crowd Florida's Sydney Moss (40) during the first half of an NCAA basketball game in Gainesville, Fla., Sunday. Tennessee took the win with a score of 78-75.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  • photo
    Tennessee forward/center Bashaara Graves scores two of her 17 points in the Lady Vols’ 78-75 overtime win over Florida on Sunday.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Ninth-ranked Tennessee needed overtime and a few breaks to extend its dominance over Florida.

Meighan Simmons scored 27 points, Bashaara Graves added 17 points and 15 rebounds, and Lady Vols beat the Gators 78-75 in overtime Sunday.

Tennessee (13-3, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) snapped Florida's 15-game winning streak at home and won for the 44th time in 48 meetings.

"If you're a spectator, it was an exciting game," Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick said. "For the coaches, it was a little gut-wrenching."

Simmons and Graves came up huge for Tennessee, which won its sixth consecutive game.

Simmons made 11 of 23 shots, including 7-of-12 in the first half, and hit four 3-pointers. Graves was clutch down the stretch.

After injuring her neck late in regulation, Graves returned and made a free throw that tied the game at 70 with 12.6 seconds remaining in regulation. She hit two from the line with 8.4 seconds left in overtime, forcing the Gators (13-5, 2-2) to take a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Kayla Lewis' shot clanged off the front of the rim.

"She's our workhorse," Warlick said of Graves. "She hit big free throws at the end. She's a competitor. She's been solid. She's been consistent."

Florida battled back from a nine-point deficit in the second half and took the lead on January Miller's jumper in the lane with 29 seconds remaining. But Graves drew a foul on the other end and then calmly sent the game into overtime. The Gators failed to get off a shot in the final possession of regulation.

Even stranger was Florida's decision to foul with 25 seconds left in the extra frame of a tie game.

Coach Amanda Butler ordered her team to send Kamiko Williams to the line. Williams, a 64-percent free-throw shooter, put Tennessee ahead for good with the first of two.

"It was a calculated risk," Butler said. "It was a bad decision. I make a lot of bad decisions. If I had it to do over again, I would trust our defense."

Still, the Gators had chances.

Christin Mercer missed two free throws with 8.9 seconds remaining.

Those kinds of mistakes are usually costly against Tennessee.

"We didn't here to come out here today for a great showing," Butler said. "This team is not satisfied by losing by three to Tennessee in overtime. It is no OK. We are not a team that is ever going to be OK with a loss by any margin anywhere. ... We're growing, we're on a journey, it's a process and this is a step in it. It's a painful step in our process, but a great showing isn't what we're after."

Jaterra Bonds led Florida with 18 points. Miller and Carlie Needles chipped in 11 each.

"We won't come up short next time," Needles said.

Florida's leading scorer, Jennifer George, dislocated her right shoulder in the first half and did not return. Butler said it was a doctor's decision to keep George on the bench. She had eight points, two rebounds and two assists.

"That's one of the areas that give our team great confidence," Butler said. "We're not a one-woman team. Although Jennifer is one of the best players in this league, we showed that our balance is legit."

Florida made 19 of its first 40 shots, a shooting percentage that turned Warlick's stomach.

But the Lady Vols settled down in the second half and really tightened up with defensive stops at the end of regulation and overtime.

"It's a matter of getting up, bringing intense and playing with a lot of energy and with a lot of heart," Warlick said. "This team thrives on getting defensive stops and scoring in transition. When we get really lax and stand around, we're not very good."

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