After 65 minutes of missed shots in Florida soccer’s NCAA Tournament opener, UF’s Meggie Dougherty Howard found an opening.
The senior midfielder took a short pass from sophomore Samantha Chung and fired 8 yards across the box, past Florida Gulf Coast goalkeeper Melissa Weck and into the lower left quadrant of the net.
Dougherty Howard’s 66th-minute goal provided a much-needed spark for the No. 1 regional seed Gators in their 3-0 victory against Florida Gulf Coast on Friday at UF’s Donald R. Dizney Stadium in front of an announced crowd of 1,132.
Freshman defender Julia Lester and senior forward Savannah Jordan provided the Gators with insurance goals in the victory.
“Our sport is a strange one,” UF coach Becky Burleigh said. “I felt like we had a really dominating performance but still you have to put the ball in the back of the net and Gulf Coast had a lot to do with that, why it wasn't in the back of the net. Give credit to them, but I think our ability to stay composed and stay relaxed in spite of not scoring and still doing the things we knew would lead us to that, that was really important."
The Gators (16-4-1), ranked No. 9 in the country, dominated possession for the majority of the match and spent the majority of the game on FGCU’s half of the field. Florida outshot the Eagles 22-2 and had 12 shots on goal but faced stiff competition early from FGCU’s goalkeeper Weck. The freshman ended the match with nine saves, including a pair in the first half that forced her to jump and twist to punch the ball away from the net.
“I think they did a really good job defensively,” said Jordan, the NCAA active leader in goals (81) and points (189). “They gave their 100 percent effort in blocking shots and kind of denying us the first half. I think we stayed patient with that but I do think they did a really good job of holding us defensively.”
But as the second half progressed, Florida broke through FGCU’s defense. After Dougherty Howard gave Florida the lead with about 25 minutes to play, Lester provided an insurance goal in the 78th minute, an unassisted 5-yard shot in the middle of the box. Not even five minutes later, Jordan responded with a 5-yard blast off an assist from midfielder Mayra Pelayo to close out scoring. It was Jordan’s team-high 16th goal of the season. FGCU (14-5-1) attempted just one shot each half.
With the win, the Gators advance to host the second and third rounds of the NCAA Tournament face Wisconsin (9-4-8) in the second round on Friday at 7 p.m.
Men’s basketball comes back to defeat Florida Gulf Coast
A late second-half surge, four double-digit scoring performances and a strong showing at the free-throw line lifted the UF men’s basketball team to an 80-59 win over Florida Gulf Coast in its season opener on Friday at Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville.
The Gators (1-0), trailed 50-49 with 13:23 to play, closed out the game on a 31-9 run that saw Florida shoot 11-for-16 from the field and make all eight of its free throws. Seven players scored during the final surge.
Junior forward Devin Robinson led the Gators with 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting and six rebounds, two blocks and three steals.
Center John Egbunu (13), guard Canyon Barry (13) and point guard Kasey Hill (11) also had double-digit scoring efforts for Florida, which went 28-of-62 from the field (45.2 percent) and made 76.9 percent of its free throws.
Brandon Goodwin led FGCU (0-1) in scoring with 14 points.
The Gators return to Jacksonville on Sunday to play Mercer.
UF women’s basketball surges in season-opening win
Behind an all-around consistent offense and a suffocating defense, the No. 20 Florida women’s basketball team cruised to an 85-33 season-opening win over South Alabama on Friday at Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville.
Senior Ronni Williams, junior Haley Lorenzen and sophomore Eleanna Christinaki led scoring with 16 points each. Williams added a game-high 10 rebounds for a season-opening double-double, and Florida collectively shot 53.5 percent from the field.
The Gators (1-0) stifled South Alabama (0-1) all night, limiting the Jaguars to a 19.6 percent shooting clip on the night. Savannah Jones led South Alabama with six points.
After jumping out to a 37-15 halftime lead, Florida stepped on the gas in the third quarter, opening the second half on a 20-0 run over a seven-minute stretch to put the game out of reach.
Florida’s next game is Monday at Chattanooga.