NEW PORT RICHEY — Citrus came into Thursday's Class 4A, region quarterfinal at Gulf intent on muscling the Buccaneers out of the gym.
With four players in the starting lineup over 5-10, the Hurricanes owned a decided size advantage. Gulf, however, didn't back down from the challenge and, in the end, dished out a little punishment of its own.
Behind 22 points from senior guard Nicole Adams, the Bucs grabbed the lead early and held it throughout in a 44-31 victory to advance to the region semifinals for the second season in a row. The Buccaneers will travel to Land O'Lakes on Tuesday.
"We love the physical game. We'll take that every day over sitting back," Adams said. "…That just makes the game more intense. If you want to send us to the foul line, that's going to be a mistake."
Citrus' physical play caught up with the team in the fourth quarter as the Hurricanes were whistled for a technical foul and two intentional fouls. The Bucs (25-4) hit all six free throws to maintain their lead, which was 15 points entering the final stanza after Hannah Kotzen (14 points) drained a 3-pointer as the third quarter ended.
"(Citrus) played great defense for about a minute and 45 seconds," Gulf coach Mike Quarto said about Kotzen's back-breaking 3. "We run a play. They do a great job defensively. Hannah did her job. Her job was to scrape off the back side of the pick. She caught it and knocked it down."
Kotzen and Adams hit a pair of 3s in the first quarter to help Gulf build a six-point lead. The Bucs led by seven at halftime and went on a 7-0 run at the end of the third to pull away.
Defensively, Gulf didn't allow Citrus twins McKenzie and Morgan Brinson to get on track. McKenzie led the Hurricanes (20-7) in scoring but had just nine points. Morgan fouled out in the fourth having only scored three points.
"I'm really proud of my kids defensively to hold them to 31 points," Quarto said. "…I thought we did phenomenal battling for the rebounds."
Gulf went cold from 3-point range after hitting a couple early and finished 4-of-16 from behind the arc. The Bucs, though, got key buckets from Kotzen, Adams and Leighlani Paselio when they needed them. Plus, Gulf hit 14-of-17 from the free-throw line.
"I think our team is peaking," Adams said. "We're not there yet. We have not peaked. We're not at our best. I know we're going to get better each and every game."