Florida holds on to upend Samantha Prahalis, Ohio State

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio -- For about a week, Florida guard Jordan Jones listened to the chatter about how Ohio State felt insulted by the selection committee.

It was as if the Gators -- who were playing the Buckeyes in the first round -- were an afterthought.

"All week long we heard Ohio State this, Ohio State that, their guards average this, their post players do that," Jones said. "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."

Quick on the perimeter and relentless on the boards, the ninth-seeded Gators were a step ahead of Ohio State from the very start Sunday, beating the eighth-seeded Buckeyes 70-65 in the Des Moines Regional. Florida scored the game's first nine points and led the entire way.

Jennifer George had 16 points and six rebounds and Lanita Bartley added 15 points to lead Florida to a win in front of a crowd packed with fans of the in-state Buckeyes.

Tayler Hill scored 23 points for Ohio State, including two late baskets to pull the Buckeyes (25-7) within two. Florida (20-12) patiently worked the ball inside to George, who went up strong to her left and scored with 45 seconds to play. Emilee Harmon missed at the other end for the Buckeyes.

Ohio State star Samantha Prahalis went scoreless in the second half and finished with nine points.

On Saturday, Jones said confidently that Ohio State might not see too many teams in the Big Ten that defend like the Gators. Whether that's true or not, the Buckeyes looked caught off guard.

Florida forced turnovers early and finished with 20 offensive rebounds, winning despite shooting only 35 percent from the field. The Gators will face either top-seeded Baylor or UC Santa Barbara on Tuesday night.

"We would play anyone, anywhere -- it just didn't matter," Jones said. "When we saw our name come up on the screen, we were ecstatic. We could have been playing the Lakers, and we would have been hugging and crying tears of joy."

Ohio State was playing in its 10th consecutive NCAA tournament, but this was the Buckeyes' worst seed in that span. They made no secret of their displeasure with the draw but did little to show they deserved any better.

Seconds after the opening tip, Hill turned the ball over against a Florida trap, leading to an easy layup for Jaterra Bonds. The Gators led 7-0 before the Buckeyes even got a shot off, and it was 12-2 following a 3-pointer by Jones.

"It started with my turnover at the beginning of the game," Hill said. "We came to play. I mean, we got the cards dealt. We were ready to play. It had nothing to do with our mindset because we had an eight seed."

The Gators led by as many as 13 despite the efforts of Hill and Prahalis. Hill scored 12 points before halftime and Prahalis added nine, but Florida was able to limit their impact. At one point, Bartley turned her back to the rest of the play while shadowing Prahalis on the perimeter, denying the Ohio State star the ball.

Prahalis did become the second Division I player to reach 2,000 points and 900 assists for her career, joining Courtney Vandersloot of Gonzaga.

Florida led 39-31 at the half and had an answer every time the Buckeyes began to assert themselves. Ohio State scored the first two baskets of the second half, but the Gators regrouped and went ahead 44-35 on a 3-pointer by Bartley.

With the score 44-40, Bartley took the ball from Amber Stokes after the Ohio State guard had come up with a defensive rebound. Bartley's layup made it a six-point game.

After a mini-run by the Buckeyes made it 52-48, Ndidi Madu's 3-pointer started a 7-1 Florida run that pushed the lead to double digits.

The Gators were making their first appearance in the tournament since 2009 but had three senior starters plus George, a 6-foot junior. They remained calm at the end after the Buckeyes cut the lead to two.

"At the end of the 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."