GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Sha Brooks stands a modest 5-foot-7. And that’s her media guide height.
Whatever the measurement, it doesn’t do justice to Florida’s senior guard, not when she plays Tennessee. Once again, the former Jackson (Tenn.) North Side High star came up big against the state school, really big.
Brooks scored 29 points — her personal best against the Lady Vols — and willed the Gators to a 66-57 comeback victory Sunday before a crowd of 8,060 at the O’Connell Center.
With the victory, the 11th ranked Gators (22-2, 8-1 SEC) beat Tennessee for just the third time in team history and extended their conference winning streak to a program-best seven games.
“It’s a huge, huge confidence builder for our team,’’ Florida coach Amanda Butler said.
No. 12 Tennessee (17-6, 6-3), meanwhile, lost its second game in seven days and is in fourth place in the SEC standings.
Brooks, who was averaging 20 points in four previous games against UT, has played a big role in two of Florida’s victories in the series. She scored 25 points in a 95-93 overtime victory in Knoxville three seasons ago.
“It’s something about wanting to beat Tennessee,’’ she said. “It’s not like I don’t want to beat other teams, but I really, really want to beat Tennessee.”
The only other Gator in double figures was forward Marshae Dotson with 10 points. And she needed four free throws in the final 2:16 to reach that total.
After Tennessee opened a 50-43 lead with 7 minutes, 29 seconds left, Brooks found another scoring gear. A trio of Brooks’ 3-pointers erased the Lady Vols’ advantage. The third, a bank shot from the top of the key over Shekinna Stricklen, gave Florida the lead for good at 54-52 with 4:27 left.
Brooks also was Florida’s top rebounder with seven and played an aggressive part in a Gators defense that limited Tennessee to two baskets in the final six minutes. The Lady Vols’ total was the fewest points UT has scored in the 40-game series with Florida.
And just for good measure, Brooks’ inbounds pass set up teammate Steffi Sorensen for a clutch 3-pointer and a 60-55 lead with 1:23 left.
“I don’t think she likes me,’’ UT coach Pat Summitt said of Brooks. “It’s amazing her toughness, how she comes at you. She plays both ends of the floor with great passion.
“She has, without a doubt, the biggest influence on how Florida plays the game. We’re lacking that.”
Angie Bjorklund led the Lady Vols with 16 points but shot 6-for-20 from the floor. Center Kelley Cain had her best game of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds but attempted just three second-half shots.
Summitt gave credit to Florida and its determined play. She also noted, though, how too many jumpers, too many turnovers and not enough trips to the foul line undermined Tennessee’s effort.
While Florida was shooting 29 free throws and making 20 (Brooks was 10-for-18), Tennessee was 2-for-8 at the foul line.
“They obviously attacked the basket,’’ Summitt said. “We settled for the three ball way, way too much.”
The reference was to Tennessee shooting 5-for-22 (22.7 percent) from beyond the 3-point arc.
The infatuation with the long-range shot helped neutralize a 23-12 edge in offensive rebounds. Trailing by two points with less than four minutes remaining, the Lady Vols’ rebounding afforded them three shots on one trip down the court. Each time, they took a trey and missed. And then Stricklen grabbed a third rebound, only to commit a turnover.
That was one of 19 by UT. While the turnover hurt in terms of timing, it wasn’t the most glaring.
Earlier, Alyssia Brewer blocked a Brooks shot and stripped her of the ball. Her follow-up to an outstanding defensive play was to dribble the length of the floor and hook a pass that bounced harmlessly into UT’s bench, throwing away a golden opportunity to extend a 47-41 lead.
Coming out of a timeout with 2:50 left and trailing by three points, Bjorklund, who played 40 minutes and committed seven turnovers, drove to the baseline and dished a pass right to Florida’s Sorensen.
“They do a great job of taking away the baseline; we told them to stay off the baseline,’’ Summitt said. “I don’t know what Angie was thinking at that time.”
Conversely, it was obvious what Brooks and the Gators were thinking and doing.
“They did bring a lot of energy,’’ Cain said. “They never let up.”