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Foes find Gulf pace difficult to handle

With Dominique English pushing the ball upcourt, Nicole Allison and Turquoise Sampsonflourishing on the wing and Tiara Cookbeating opposing centers down the floor for easy buckets, Gulf has turned every possession into a track meet.

In fact, the Buccaneers' up-tempo game is running so well that defenders might as well be folding chairs for all the opposition they have presented.

Gulf's frenzied pace is a big reason it won its first 11 games by 10 points or more. Included in that stretch was a 104-18 victory over Tarpon Springs in which coach Mike Quarto emptied his bench early in the third quarter.

"We haven't tried to run up the score on anybody," Quarto said. "In that game against Tarpon Springs, everybody was hot. Even the reserves were knocking down shots."

Quarto knew he had the necessary elements for success. Nearly everyone was coming back from a team that went through a remarkable transformation from the previous season, going from 2-22 to 17-8.

Still, Quarto needed a barometer to gauge the progress of his star-studded team.

He got it in the final of the Keeler Memorial Christmas tournament at Academy of the Holy Names in Tampa. The Buccaneers played Plant, which advanced to the Class 5A state semifinals last year.

In a close contest that had several lead changes down the stretch, Gulf lost 54-53 in overtime.

"A loss is never good," Quarto said. "But there are things we can learn from this. We made some mistakes, but we were able to recover and make it a game."

Gulf scored one point in the second quarter and trailed by 12 at halftime.

Quarto said the inability to score was due largely to fatigue. The Bucs played two tournaments during the winter break (they were undefeated in the Ashley Memorial Shootout at Ridgewood) and the game against the Panthers was their fourth in as many days.

"We just had a brief lapse where we shot ourselves in the foot," Quarto said.

But Gulf found the wherewithal to come back. Cook was the driving force behind the rally, scoring 10 during a 15-4 Bucs run. English added seven points in the third, including a 3-pointer as time expired to tie it at 37.

Gulf led 49-45 with 2:30 left, then Plant tied it with less than a minute to go. Both teams missed potential winning shots and the game went to overtime.

The Bucs had to play overtime without Cook, who fouled out with less than a minute left in regulation. That hurt as Gulf watched Plant's Kiersten Hannahit a 3-pointer and Alex Caromake a free throw. Gulf missed its last shot, which would have won the game.

English led the Bucs with 26 points and Cook had 17. Both were named all-tournament along with Allison.

"This gives us confidence," Quarto said. "To be behind by that much and to come back against a team like that shows we can play with some teams. And the night before we beat a solid Blake team by 10."

The tournaments also helped Gulf prepare for a tough stretch of games. Starting with late Tuesday's game against Mitchell, the Buccaneers play four conference foes in the next nine days.

"It's going to be rough," Quarto said. "But I think we know after the Plant game that we have to come out and play every night."

CHASE MEMORIAL: Cocoa won the inaugural Chase Memorial tournament at Hudson. The event was named after Chase Cork, a 2{-year-old boy who died in April after a nine-month battle with a rare form of brain cancer. The host Cobras and Zephyrhills went 0-3.

_ BOB PUTNAM, Times staff writer