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Florida Gators women earn rare basketball victory over Tennessee

GAINESVILLE — In the official standings, it will count as only one more win in a season that has already produced the best 24-game record in school history.

But in the annals of Florida women's basketball, Sunday's 66-57 victory over storied Tennessee is much, much more.

The No. 11 Gators overcame poor first-half shooting with stellar defense, then rallied down the stretch in front of 8,060 at the O'Connell Center, the second-largest home crowd in Florida history.

Florida (22-2, 8-1 SEC), which won just two conference games two years ago, remained tied for first with Auburn. It was only the third time in school history the Gators have defeated the Vols, and the seven straight conference wins are a school record.

"It was a fantastic win," second-year Florida coach Amanda Butler said. "In the SEC, the most important thing is to continue to get SEC wins. I said before the game we don't get a bonus point if we beat Tennessee, and that's the truth, but at the same time with a program like that, that we have so much respect for what they have done, what they will continue to do and the way Pat (Tennessee coach Summitt) does it, it's a huge confidence-builder for our team. And it is a great day for our program, no question."

No. 12 Tennessee (17-6, 6-3) led 29-27 at halftime after leading by as many as seven. Senior guard Sha Brooks, the catalyst for the Gators, shot just 3-of-10 from the field in the half.

But with the Gators trailing 50-43 with 7:29 remaining in the game, Brooks took over. The Tennessee native scored 12 of her game-high 29 consecutively in a 2:47 span to give the Gators a 55-52 lead with just more than three minutes remaining.

"I don't think she likes me," Summitt jokingly said of Brooks. "It's amazing, her toughness, how she comes after you. Obviously she plays both ends of the floor and plays with great passion. Makes big plays, takes care of the basketball. I think she, without a doubt, has the biggest influence on how Florida plays the game. We're lacking that."

The Gators hit 8 of 10 free throws in the final 2:16 to help seal the win. Florida's defense kept the Vols, who had a decided height advantage, from scoring in the paint, forcing Tennessee to shoot from outside. The Vols were 5-of-22 from 3-point range.

"Right now I'm trying to figure out how we can get to the free-throw line," said Summitt, who won her NCAA-record 1,000th game Thursday night. "That, to me, is kind of a mystery. We went 2-for-8, so when we got there we weren't any good. We were 2-for-8. They were 20-for-29, so obviously that's a big margin and a big difference in the game. … We settled for the 3 way too much."

Florida Gators women earn rare basketball victory over Tennessee 02/08/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 9, 2009 7:30am]
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