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UF Women’s Basketball: Florida Falls to No. 9 Aggies in SEC Home Opener

Sophomore Nina Rickards notched her first career double-double.

Courtesy of University Athletic Association

BY SAM STOLTE

Florida hangs tough through three quarters but falls 92-67 Sunday

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The University of Florida women’s basketball team (7-3, 0-2) hung tough with No. 9 Texas A&M (10-0) but saw the Aggies pull away in the fourth as it dropped a 92-67 decision inside Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center Sunday in its SEC home opener.
 
Florida clawed its way back to within five points in the third quarter, but the high-powered Aggies closed out the Gators with a 31-17 edge in the final period.
 
Taking on their second-straight top 10 team, Florida’s effort came up short despite a strong game from sophomore Nina Rickards, who recorded her first double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Rickards, a guard, has 50 rebounds in her last four games.
 
Featuring four double-figure scorers for the second time this season, Florida was paced by sophomore Lavender Briggs, who tallied 19 points and eight rebounds. Senior guard Kiki Smith wowed the O’Dome crowd with a collection of tough finishes at the rim, recording 16 points, while Faith Dut scored 11 points off the Gator bench.
 
A pair of free throw conversions by Smith made the score just 49-44 with 2:48 to play in the third, and the Gators lurked within striking distance at 61-50 heading into the fourth, but the game’s momentum took a sharp turn to the Aggies’ side. After Briggs scored the period’s opening tally, Texas A&M rattled off 13 consecutive points to take a commanding 74-52 lead. Following an opening three quarters which featured some back-and-forth play, Florida’s last time within a single digit score was at the 9:02 mark of the fourth when Briggs made her pull-up jumper.
 
Texas A&M and Florida played to a 22-22 stalemate the quarter prior.
 
Featuring a physical brand of basketball, Texas A&M powered in 48 points in the paint but also shot it with efficiency, making 55.2 percent of its shots overall and seven of its eight three-point tries. All three marks were season highs for Florida’s defense.
 
On Sunday, Florida became just the fourth team in the nation to battle teams ranked in the top 10 in consecutive games.

The undefeated Aggies, who entered the game averaging 82.2 points per game, had five double-digit point scorers, paced by All-SEC player N’Dea Jones, who tallied 17 points and 18 rebounds.
 
The Gators trailed 18-15 following the expiration of the first quarter after Aaliyah Wilson drained a step-back three-pointer at the buzzer. Florida started the game without a make in its first six attempts as the Aggies pulled ahead 6-0, but it quickly caught fire with a stretch of five consecutive makes. Florida led 13-12 at the first quarter media timeout after the scoring surge. Dut and Rickards both recorded field goals during the run.
 
A lid appeared to be on Florida’s rim to open the second quarter as it made just one of its first nine shots. The Aggies held a 28-20 edge at the second quarter’s media timeout. Florida’s dry spell continued as it went without a field goal for over five minutes. Its commitment on the defense end, though, allowed it to stay within striking distance.
 
At the half, the score stood at 39-28 in favor of the No. 9 Aggies. Cydnee Kinslow snagged an offensive rebound and put it back up at the buzzer to draw the Gators within 11.
 
Smith led the Gators with nine points at the intermission, while Rickards and Dut each had six. UF shot just 28.2 percent from the floor in the first 20 minutes and was just 1-of-9 from three-point range. TAMU’s Ciera Johnson’s presence in the paint was key for the Aggies, as the senior tallied 10 first-half points.
 
After just two points in the first half, Briggs scored UF’s first seven points of the second half and continued to push Texas A&M. After a Rickards step-back jumper, Florida called a timeout trailing 48-37 with 6:44 to play in the frame. The Gators made three of their first five shots, and Dut, who entered the game without a three-point field goal in her career, connected on her second of the contest at the 5:28 mark to bring the Gators to within nine points at 49-40. Florida utilized a 7-0 run and held the Aggies without a field goal for over four minutes which allowed it to cut the deficit to just 49-44 with under three minutes to play.
 
The Aggies responded with five straight points to reestablish a double-figure advantage. Similar to the last game at No. 5 South Carolina, Florida’s best quarter was the third as it tallied 22 points and converted six of its seven field goal attempts.
 
After Briggs scored the first bucket of the fourth, the Aggies used a 13-0 run to grab what was their largest lead at the time at 74-52. Texas A&M made seven consecutive shots and pulled away with a 22-4 run in the fourth. The visiting Aggies shot a perfect 4-of-4 from three-point range in the final stanza, separating themselves from Florida with a sudden barrage of triples.
 
NEXT UP: Florida takes on its third-straight top-12 team Thursday, Jan. 7, when it welcomes No. 12 Mississippi State at Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

QUOTABLES

Head Coach Cam Newbauer

On going up against No. 9 Texas A&M…
“They have great depth. I think they’re No. 1 in the league. That’s a very good team. They’ve got transfers with a ton of experience at the BCS level and they played like it. I was worried about them [Texas A&M] offensively but I was more worried about how we were going to score because they do such a good job and I knew they were going to be keyed on Lav (Briggs) and force her into some tough looks for her. I thought we got good looks but they didn’t go down and part of that was because we rushed it and part of that was because of their defense. That’s a really, really good basketball team right there. And we’ve played two of the best teams in the country, not just in our league. Just got to lick your wounds and get right back to focus on growth and being better.”
 
On team’s resilience…
“We’ve got toughness but we have to be tougher and connected as a whole in the biggest moments. We can’t just wait till the game is out of hand. Setting the tone earlier in the game. We can do that. That’s something we’re working towards. Working towards people speaking up, stepping up, and just learning and growing and fighting and competing. I think it will happen. I think we’re still growing into that.”
 
Sophomore Nina Rickards

On the team’s play in the third quarter…
“I think just our energy and realizing we can compete with any team that we step on the court with. Just in our group, that was the biggest thing for us.”

On lessons taken from facing two of the toughest teams in the SEC early on in the season…
“Just knowing that we have to come on the court with a chip on our shoulder every time. Obviously, we played two of the best teams in our league or in the country. And, just knowing that we can fight with anybody that we step on the court with. So, I think that’s definitely a takeaway. You know, we didn’t get the outcome that we wanted, but we’re definitely going to learn from it and just going to get better.”
 
On her great games and tough drives into the paint…
“I mean, originally I was just going to look for my pull-up this game because I haven’t been taking it. But I noticed with my speed I could get by, so my shot wasn’t falling so I just got to the rim and finished through contact. So, that was really good.”
 
On Faith Dut’s success from three-point range…
“I definitely loved it. Just seeing my teammates, knowing that they can be versatile, and they can have confidence in themselves is just the biggest thing because that is what’s going to help us get along from here. So, I’m definitely proud of her for hitting those shots and I know she can make them. So, she just has to keep taking them.

NOTABLES

  • Florida falls to 6-1 at home this season.
  • The Gators are just the fourth team in the country to take on back-to-back top 10 foes.
  • Lavender Briggs recorded her seventh game with at least 15 points and led the team in scoring for the seventh time.
  • Florida is now 20-18 all-time in SEC home openers.
  • Florida falls to 1-11 all time against the Aggies.
  • Emily Sullivan made her first career start.
  • Nina Rickards finished in double figures for the fourth time in her career while Faith Dut did so for the third time.
  • Florida committed just eight turnovers, tying a season best.