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USF makes it tough, but Florida advances

The Gators win 3-1 and will host NCAA quarterfinal round.

By JILL MARTIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 8, 2002


GAINESVILLE -- Before Saturday's match against South Florida, Gators coach Mary Wise said she knew this would be Florida's biggest challenge since September.

She was right.

Florida beat the Bulls 35-33, 30-24, 20-30, 30-18 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but USF didn't make it easy.

In fact, it was one of UF's toughest wins, and Wise said USF was the toughest opponent she has faced in the second round.

"This will be a match we can draw so much from," Wise said. "These are the matches that we get better from, and it will help us long-term to draw comparisons from that."

The Gators (32-2) were tentative at the start, letting several shots drop in front of them. And the Bulls (30-7) had a 15-7 lead midway through the first game.

Kills by Aury Cruz, Benavia Jenkins, Michelle Chatman and Jacque Robinson, however, helped get Florida back in the match at 15-13.

USF outside hitter Michelle Collier was in charge of South Florida's attack. Almost all plays were set up for the senior from Brazil, who had 10 kills and three aces. But her seven errors allowed UF to come back.

Florida took its first lead at 30-29 and rallied to win 35-33.

"I just think we were a little nervous, nervous of the big crowd," Florida middle blocker Nicole McCray said. "We knew South Florida was going to come out and play hard. We just had to get our nerves settled and calm down and play our game."

Game 2 belonged to the Gators, who spread out their attack. Five players had at least three kills and Cruz led with six.

But USF wouldn't quit.

Collier had seven kills and four digs in the third game, and the Bulls were in control throughout.

The Bulls took an 8-3 lead in Game 4. But the Gators came back after a timeout to tie at 8. After a USF timeout, the teams traded points through the midway point.

Then Florida started looking like the No. 5 seed, taking a 20-14 lead and never looking back.

"Florida had to beat us tonight," USF coach Nancy Mueller said. "We did not lose to this team. They had to come out with everything that they had to beat us."

Florida hosts a region quarterfinal. The Gators play Temple (28-6). The other matchup is Washington State (23-7) vs. Northern Iowa (34-2).

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