Sunday, March 23, 2014 | 3:25 p.m.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Cassie Peoples scored 21 points and all five Florida starters scored in double figures, leading the Gators past Dayton 83-69 Sunday in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
The 11th-seeded Gators (20-12) will play Penn State on Tuesday night in the Stanford Regional.
In a first round full of lopsided scores, the Gators pulled off a rare upset by a double-digit seed. Jaterra Bonds and Ronni Williams each had 15 points for Florida.
Andrea Hoover led the Flyers (23-8) with 22 points and Celeste Edwards scored 15 points. Hoover and Edwards helped the Flyers storm to a double-digit lead in the second before Florida started to rally.
The Gators shot 51 percent in the second half to wipe out the deficit and stun Dayton.
The Flyers appeared to put the sting of losing to Fordham in the A-10 tournament championship game behind in a hurry. Hoover and Saicha Allen-Grant hit early 3s in the second half helped push Dayton's lead to 11.
The Gators stormed back and wiped it out with 8:44 left in the half. Peoples scored a layup, Florida forced on a turnover, and Kalya Lewis went inside for a bucket for a 57-56 lead.
Carlie Needles first 3 of the game made it 60-56. The Flyers kept creeping within a bucket of tying the game, only to get pushed back with a score on the other end. Needles, a 5-foot-6 guard who averaged only six points a game this season, swished another 3 for a 67-60 lead that finally gave the Gators the breathing room they needed.
Dayton's Celeste Edwards missed a layup that could have made it a three-point game, Florida grabbed the rebound and Needles completed the fastbreak layup for a 69-63 lead.
Hoover, who led Dayton this season in points, assists and 3-point shooting, didn't have enough left for one more rally. She made 4 of 8 3-pointers and chipped in four rebounds.
Hoover hit three 3-pointers and scored 15 points to give Dayton a 32-29 halftime lead. Deane also had 10 points and the Flyers shot 52 percent from the floor to build the lead.
Florida was back in the tournament for the first time since 2012. The Gators managed a fifth-place finish in the rugged SEC even with one of the thinnest rosters of any tournament team. The Gators have played just eight players in all but two games this season, seven against LSU on Jan. 12 and nine against Florida State and Nov. 21. The played only eight on Sunday — and didn't need any more.
Lewis had 11 points and 11 rebounds.
The Gators also have no starters taller than 6-foot, yet they are the ones standing tall in the second round.