By STEVE MEGARGEE
AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Eleanna Christinaki had 18 points, eight assists and six rebounds Thursday night as Florida withstood its coach’s absence and capitalized on Tennessee’s poor shooting in a 74-66 victory over the 12th-ranked Lady Volunteers.
Florida coach Amanda Butler wasn’t with the Gators, and assistant Shimmy Gray-Miller served as acting head coach. Florida athletic department spokesperson Kathy Cafazzo said Butler was dealing with a family emergency.
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.
Diamond DeShields scored 16 points and Bashaara Graves had a career-high 19 rebounds for Tennessee. After shooting 11 of 21 in the first quarter, the Lady Vols were 13 of 61 the rest of the game.
Carlie Needles scored 15 points for Florida before leaving with a cramp in her leg in the fourth quarter. 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.
After Florida scored the game’s first five points, Tennessee took command with a 16-2 run. That set the tone for a game of runs.
The Lady Vols built an early 11-point lead as Florida turned the ball over nine times during a first quarter that featured five steals from each team.
Florida got back into the game when Tennessee cooled off. The Lady Vols shot 2 of 17 in the second quarter as Florida tied the game at 29-all before Tennessee closed the half on a 6-0 run.
Tennessee led by as many as nine early in the third quarter before Florida rallied. A 3-pointer by Brooke Copeland with 1:38 left in the third gave Florida its first lead since that 5-0 advantage. The game was tied 53-all at the end of the third period and continued going back and forth early in the fourth before Florida went on a 7-0 run to pull ahead for good.
Ronni Williams put Florida ahead 59-58 with 7:49 left, and Christinaki added a driving layup before Needles’ 3-pointer capped the spurt with seven minutes remaining.
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.
Florida: At Ole Miss on Sunday.
Tennessee: Hosts Auburn on Sunday.
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