Without their coach, Gators upset No. 12 Lady Vols 74-66
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Florida didn't have its coach all night and was missing its leading scorer for large chunks of Thursday's game with No. 12 Tennessee.
The Gators responded by finding a way to change their history of frustration in this series.
Eleanna Christinaki had 18 points, eight assists and six rebounds Thursday night as Florida defeated the Lady Volunteers 74-66 to overcome the absence of coach Amanda Butler, who was dealing with a family emergency.
''Coach Butler prepares us for adversity and we pride ourselves on working through that, which I feel like we did,'' said Carlie Needles, who added 15 points for Florida despite briefly leaving with a leg cramp in the fourth quarter.
Shimmy Gray-Miller, who served as Florida's acting head coach, said Butler expects to rejoin the team Friday. Butler spoke to the Gators when the team gathered in the locker room after the game.
''She's very happy,'' Gray-Miller said after the game. ''She's very proud of her young ladies, and she said, `I'll see you tomorrow.' ''
Florida (13-2, 1-1 SEC) ended an 11-game losing streak in this series and beat the Lady Vols for the first time since a 66-57 decision on Feb. 8, 2009. Tennessee (10-4, 1-1) leads the all-time series 48-4.
The Gators won by capitalizing on Tennessee's cold shooting. After shooting 11 of 21 in the first quarter, the Lady Vols were 13 of 61 the rest of the way
Tennessee's Diamond DeShields scored 16 points but shot 6 of 21 and committed seven turnovers. Bashaara Graves had a career-high 19 rebounds but shot 2 of 13 to finish with seven points. Tennessee went 4 of 22 from 3-point range.
''We just got beat by just a tougher team today,'' Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. ''Tougher, stronger, smarter. Just a better team.''
January Miller added 11 points as Florida shot 60 percent in the second half to win for the 13th time in its last 14 games. Ronni Williams, who entered the night averaging a team-high 10.7 points per game, had six points and 10 rebounds while playing just 21 minutes due to foul trouble.
Tennessee led by as many as 11 points in the first quarter and had a nine-point advantage early in the third period, but Florida kept coming back.
The game was tied 45-all after three quarters and continued going back and forth early in the fourth before Florida pulled ahead for good with a 7-0 run.
''What this team is, is just a collection of tough, gritty competitive players who battle and who play with a great deal of competitive fire and passion,'' Gray-Miller said. ''That's what you saw tonight. That's who we are. That's Coach Butler's team.''
Florida: The Gators already have matched their victory total from last season, when they went 13-17.
Tennessee: The Lady Vols' had a 10-game SEC home winning streak snapped. They hadn't dropped a conference game at home since falling 75-71 to Kentucky in February 2014.
Tennessee's season-long struggle with 3-pointers arose again Thursday. The Lady Vols have shot just 23.1 percent (50 of 216) from 3-point range this season.
Lady Vols guard Andraya Carter said Tennessee's coaches constantly reminded guards to penetrate rather than shooting 3-pointers. The Lady Vols had 22 3-point attempts anyway.
''That was not our game plan,'' Warlick said. ''We were on our own agenda tonight. I'm telling them to drive, and they're shooting 3's.''
While Tennessee was just 4 of 22 from 3-point range, Florida went 9 of 18. ...Tennessee had 32 offensive rebounds - its highest total since a victory over Troy on Dec. 14, 2013 - yet converted them into only 21 second-chance points.
Florida: At Ole Miss on Sunday.
Tennessee: Hosts Auburn on Sunday.