BOWLING GREEN — The Ohio State women’s basketball team entered its first NCAA tournament contest talking about how it felt disrespected as an eighth seed.
Well, Florida also felt it had been disrespected, and the Gators used that disrespect to claim a 70-65 victory over the Buckeyes Sunday in its first-round tournament game before a pro-OSU crowd of 4,195 at the Stroh Center.
“All week long we heard is Ohio State this, Ohio State that, their guards average this, their post players do that,” said Florida senior Jordan Jones, who finished with seven points and a team-high eight rebounds. “Honestly, we took that to heart.
“I know Ohio State talked a lot about being disrespected, but we felt disrespected, too. I don’t think anyone knew how good our defense was.”
The ninth-seeded Gators, who improved to 20-12, were led with 16 points by Jennifer George. Lanita Bartley scored 15 and Jaterra Bonds 11 for Florida, which will face Baylor at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in the Stroh Center for the right to advance to the regional in Des Moines, Iowa.
Ohio State (25-7) got 23 points from Tayler Hill while Amber Stokes, and Ashley Adams added 12 and 11, respectively.
Florida jumped out to a quick 9-0 lead as Ohio State turned the ball over three times before it took a shot, and the Gators expanded their advantage to double figures before the game was three minutes old.
“[Our trouble] started with my turnover at the beginning of the game,” OSU’s Hill said. “We had too many unforced turnovers.”
The Buckeyes managed to cut the deficit to three points on a fast-break layup by Samantha Prahalis with 12:38 left, but Florida’s Andrea Vilaro Aragones hit a 3-pointer 13 seconds later to give the Gators some breathing room. Florida eventually bumped its advantage to 12 points before settling for a 39-31 lead at the half.
The Buckeyes’ problem defensively in the first half was their inability to keep Florida from making 3-pointers. The Gators, who came into the contest making less than 30 percent of their 3-point shots this season, started 4-for-6 from behind the arc and were 7-for-16 (43.8 percent) on 3s in the first half.
“Our plan wasn’t to let them get open 3s,” Hill said. “Just because they were a 29-percent 3-point shooting team, you still have to guard.”
Meanwhile the Buckeyes labored under the weight of nine first-half turnovers that led to 10 extra Gator points.
“We had some very bad turnovers, just unforced turnovers on passes that were just thrown over a player’s head,” said Ohio State coach Jim Foster. “We moved the ball and we got quality shots.
“We just had some unforced, untimely turnovers. We shot ourselves in the foot a lot.”
Ohio State managed to whittle the deficit down to four points early in the second period, but Florida kept the Buckeyes at bay until the final minutes. The Gators turned the ball over three straight possessions with three minutes left, and OSU cut the score to 65-63 with 1:01 to play and forced a Florida timeout.
“At the end of the [timeout] huddle, I said, ‘Look at me. We’re going to win this. We got this,’?” Florida coach Amanda Butler said. “The looks I got back were very confident.
“At that moment, I had a sigh of relief, because the confidence in their eyes was undeniable.”
George scored a hook shot in the lane with 45 seconds left to stop OSU’s run, and the Gators forced an Ohio State miss. From there Florida made its free throws and closed out the win that ended the Buckeyes season.
“This was a team that didn’t have a lot of expectations preseason, but came on and created the weight of expectations,” Foster said. “I thought Tayler stepped up to the challenge. I thought Amber played very well, and Ashley also.
“So that bodes well for what the future holds.”
Contact John Wagner at: email@example.com, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.