Gator Women Down FIU, Claim Gator Holiday Classic
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Sophomores Cassie Peoples (San Antonio, Texas) and Christian Mercer (Douglasville, Ga.) both enjoyed career nights with 24 and 31 points, respectively, as the duocombined to lead the Gators to their fourth consecutive Gator Holiday Classic championship with a 90-74 win over FIU on Saturday at the O’Connell Center.
Florida shot a season-best and GHC-record 62.9 percent (39-62) from the field en route to its fourth straight victory.
Peoples was named the tournament MVP after connecting on 10-of-14 from the field, including a 3-of-4 effort from long range against FIU, one night after scoring 16 points against Tennessee State.
Mercer was fantastic off the bench in both tournament games, hitting 15-of-17 from the floor against the Panthers on Saturday after posting her first double-double of the year with a then-career-high 18 points and 10 rebounds in the first round. The sophomore earned a spot on the All-Tournament team and became the first Gator to score 30-plus points since Sha Brooks tallied 31 against Mississippi State on Jan. 8, 2009.
Jaterra Bonds (Gainesville, Fla.) added 17 points and dished out seven assists, while Kayla Lewis (Decatur, Ga.) returned to lead the Gators with 10 rebounds, as she posted her fourth consecutive game with double-digit rebounds.
After holding a 20-16 edge with 11:05 to play in the first half, the Gators used a 22-7 run over the next 5:56 to take a 42-23 lead and never looked back. Peoples scored 10 points in the spree, while Bonds added six, Mercer four and Lewis two.
The teams traded scores for the remainder of the period and Florida turned defense into offense in the first half, forcing 14 turnovers en route to shooting 66.7 percent. The Gators scored 40 points in the paint, 27 points off of turnovers and 18 fast break points to storm out to a 53-34 halftime lead.
FIU outscored Florida 40-37 in the second half thanks to Jerica Coley, who led the nation in scoring last year and finished with 37 points tonight. Mercer’s 19 second-half points helped the Gators quell the Panther’s late rally.
Florida led by as many as 24 points with 15:35 to go, but FIU never gave up and whittled its deficit to 10 points as late as 4:24 remaining. Mercer scored all eight points during an ensuing 8-3 run that lifted UF’s lead back to 17 points with under two minutes to play and secured the victory.
Coley was named to the all-tournament team after scoring 70 points in two games, the second-most ever in the 23-year history of the GHC.
Florida won its home tournament for the 19th time.
2013 Gator Holiday Classic All-Tournament Team
MVP: Cassie Peoples, Florida
Jerica Coley, FIU
I’mani Davis, Tennessee State
Christin Mercer, Florida
Micahya Owens, La Salle
· Cassie Peoples cranked out her seventh double-digit scoring game of the season and career. Peoples tied her career high in the first half with 17 points, and ended her night with 24. Peoples was 7-of-9 shooting in the opening half and finished 10-for-14.
· Christin Mercer notched 31 points on 15-17 shooting for her fourth double-digit game of the season and 10th of her career. In two games off the bench, Mercer tallied 49 points.
· Bonds scored 17 points to finish in double figures for the 10th time this season and 66th time in her career.
· Kayla Lewis has recorded double-figure rebounds in four straight games; finished with 10 tonight
· Four different Gators have scored 20+ points in a game this year: Bonds (four times), Lewis, Mercer and Peoples
By the Numbers
· The Gators shot 62.9 percent from the field, improving to 8-1 on the year when hitting at least 40 percent. UF also improved to 10-0 when topping 70 points.
· UF has won eighth consecutive games in the Gator Holiday Classic.
· The Gators forced 17 turnovers and are now 9-2 when the opponent turns the ball over 17 or more times.
· Florida scored 32 points off turnovers. This marked the eighth time this year that the Gators have scored 20+ points off turnovers.
· FIU outrebounded Florida by a margin of 38-31. The Gators are now 4-1 when being outrebounded
· UF distributed the ball well, as six of eight Gators recorded an assist. Florida totaled 15 assists compared to 12 turnovers.
· UF’s bench contributed 35 points.
Individual Numbers of Note
· Mercer became the first Gator this season to put up 30+ points in a single game; it was the 32nd time in Gator history a player has scored 30+ points
· Mercer became the 16th different Gator to score 30+ points in a game, joining Quientella Bonner, Terri Hartmann , Cheryl Fisher, Tammy Jackson, Hollis Hindes, Sophia Witherspoon, Merlakia Jones, DeLisha Milton, Murriel Page, Tiffany Travis, Tonya Washington, Brandi McCain, Vanessa Hayden, Bernice Mosby and Sha Brooks
· With seven assists, Bonds surpassed 375 career assists.
· Peoples’s first-half three-pointer represented the 110th consecutive game a Florida player has made a three.
· Peoples and Mercer became the third and fourth different Gators this season to score 20+ points. (Bonds four times, Lewis once).
· January Miller (Orlando, Fla.) scored in her 40th consecutive game, the longest active streak by a current Gator. Miller finished with eight points.
Gator Starting ‘5’
· Senior Jaterra Bonds started her 82nd straight game; 95th of her career.
· Junior Kayla Lewis started her 12th straight game; 40th of career.
· Sophomore January Miller started her 13th career game.
· Senior Lily Svete (Granger, Ind.) started her 27th straight game; 45th of her career.
· Sophomore Cassie Peoples started her fourth career game.
· The starting combination of Svete, Miller, Bonds, Peoples and Lewis was used for the second consecutive game
Updated Records: Florida 9-3 … FIU 4-6
Quotes from the Court:
UF head coach Amanda Butler
“It was a good win. We certainly didn’t play perfectly. There are a lot of things, when I have a chance to look at the film, that will be some great things to practice come Dec. 26. Give Florida International credit. Cindy’s [Russo] teams are always really well coached and always put up a fight. Jerica Coley is just amazing. That’s what we were talking about in the locker room – when you play against that type of competition it gets you ready for what’s down the road. We’re going to see players that can rise up and shoot jump shots like that. It’s great preparation for us. Most importantly, we got the win and a chance to win a championship and do that in front of our home fans. Now, we get to go home and take a little bit of a break and celebrate what’s most important.”
On jumping out to an early lead and then pulling back:
“I think it’s important for us, from a confidence standpoint, to jump out to a lead and never relinquish the lead. The thing we obviously need to work on is that we had a little lull, a little drought, in there and we gave up 40 points in the second half – that’s a lot. They got hot, their shooters got hot and the coach put her team in the situation to succeed based on what we were doing – playing a lot of zone. They put four guards out there and hit a few shots. It’s a good feeling to know that when we start fast and aggressive like we did, what it’s going to look like, how it’s going to feel and what follows that.”
On the press:
“I think our team has a really good understanding of how we want them to use it [the press]. We’re not going to press the entire game, but if we’re going to press three or four possessions, then we have to be successful in the press of those three or four possessions. As any good team, FIU quickly adjusted and I think we had three or four turnovers in a row. They did a really good job of attacking it and we weren’t able to do it anymore. We’ve got a lot of confidence in being able to switch things up and trying to keep a great player like Jerica [Coley] off balance, even though it didn’t seem like we did a very good job of keeping her off balance, but just try to throw different looks out there so at least there’s a little bit of hesitation before the other team can attack. I was pleased with the way our press worked the last two ballgames. It was really a separating factor in both games.”
UF Sophomore Cassie Peoples
“It’s been a fun tournament. It was definitely exciting having my family here and being able to put things together as far as my game. It was also great to see the team come together the way we’ve known that we can come together. I think what was most enjoyable for me was seeing our team play so well together.”
UF Sophomore Christin Mercer
“Tonight was just like any other night. What got me so excited was that my mom was in the stands for the first game. I feel like that’s why I showed out. The game was just coming to me and I knew that I was the energy factor to my team because when I was out I could, not see a lot of drop, but there was something … I just wanted to win with my teammates. They kept giving me the ball so I scored.”
UF Senior Jaterra Bonds
“I think we played really well. Not so well the first game to our standards as a team, but I think we really bounced back in this game, especially in the first half. We had contributions from everyone in the first game and in this game about three or four players went all out. When you see your team click and put things together, especially when you’re going into the next phase of the season, which is about to be SEC play, it feels good and it feels like we’re improving and getting to the place we need to be to perform at a higher level.”
FIU Head Coach Cindy Russo
General thoughts on the game:
“We didn’t play well in the first half. We came back and played better in the second half, but it’s tough to come back from that kind of deficit.”
On what FIU could have done better:
“We didn’t need to turn the ball over as much as we did and we needed to take care of business offensively. Florida shot a high percentage and had a lot of layups and it’s hard to beat a team when you let them do that.”
Georgetown (6-5) at Florida (9-3)
Stephen C. O’Connell Center (11,373) * Gainesville, Fla.
Sat., December 28 * 2 p.m.
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