UF Women’s Basketball: Florida Fights But No. 20 Lady Vols Come Out On Top in Knoxville
Courtesy of University Athletic Association
BY SAM STOLTE
Women’s basketball battles back to within one in the fourth quarter but despite a big performance from Smith and Briggs comes up short, 79-65
Despite a combined 46 points from standouts Kiki Smith and Lavender Briggs, the University of Florida women’s basketball team fell short at No. 20 Tennessee, 79-65, Sunday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Gators came out hot and led 21-19 after the first period and then won the third quarter 23-20, but despite their spirited charge, they could not take down the No. 20 Lady Vols, who improve to 474-50 all-time at home. Following a steal-and-score from the senior captain Smith, the Gators trailed by just one at 60-59 with 6:45 to play, but the nationally-ranked Lady Vols responded with a stifling 6-0 run, and the Gators were not able to overcome it late in the game.
Scoring 20 or more points for the fourth time in her last five contests, Smith tallied 23 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, and four steals as she collected her fourth double-double of the season. Briggs, who entered the game averaging 22.7 points away from home this season, poured in 23 of her own to go with nine rebounds, two assists, and two steals. Smith and Briggs combined to score 40 or more points for the sixth time in 2020-21.
Coach Newbauer missed Sunday’s contest vs. Tennessee due to health and safety protocols. Associate head coach Kelly Rae Finley served as Florida’s acting head coach for the third straight game.
The Gators made eight 3-pointers, corralled 21 offensive rebounds, and notched 10 steals, but their fiery effort would not be enough to slow down the Lady Vols, who won the rebounding battle 57-42 and blocked a season-best 14 shots, one shy of a program record. Florida led for over 10 minutes in the game and by as many as seven early, but UT used a 21-11 edge in the fourth quarter to put away the Gators, who were in search of just their third win ever in Knoxville.
After being held to 50 or fewer points in three straight matchups against Tennessee and falling by an average of 24 points, the Gators, who saw their record drop to 9-8 on the campaign, had the Lady Vols on the ropes in the second half.
Freshman guard Brynn Farrell added six points off the bench, scoring the first baskets of her career late in the fourth quarter to keep the Gators within striking distance. Reserves Jordyn Merritt and Danielle Rainey added five points a piece in the hard-fought loss.
6-foot-5 sophomore Tamari Key recorded a triple-double for the Lady Vols, registering 23 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 blocks on 10-of-12 shooting from the field. Key led the charge for UT’s interior scoring as the Lady Vols, who improve to 12-3 and 5-1 in the SEC, scored 56 points in the paint, a season-high for a Florida opponent this year.
After Smith and Briggs combined for the Gators’ first 13 points, they held a 13-10 edge at the first media timeout. Florida came out of the gates locked in, starting 4-of-6 from the floor and jumping out to a quick 11-4 lead. Tying its high mark for points scored in an opening frame in SEC play, Florida carried a 21-19 lead after one. Briggs and Smith were sensational in the initial stanza, tallying 20 of UF’s first 21 points and shooting a dazzling 8-of-13 from the floor.
The Lady Vols, exerting their advantage in length and strength in the interior, scored eight of the first 10 points in the second and employed an 8-0 run to take a 27-23 lead with just over five minutes to play. The Gators made only one of eight shots in a stretch, but Smith snapped the skid with an impressive floater, and the Gators trailed 27-25 at the second quarter media timeout. After starting 3-of-6 from the floor in the first, Briggs cooled down, missing five of her first six shots in the period as the Lady Vols increased their lead to 33-27 with three minutes to go in the half. Merritt made two free throws with 30 seconds left to draw the deficit back to 38-31 heading into the break. Following its hot shooting in the first quarter, Florida’s offense hit a lull in the second as it scored just 10 points and shot 21 percent from the floor. Smith continued to attack, though, as she tallied six in the quarter and checked in at the break with 17 points.
The Lady Vols utilized a 6-0 run early in the third to suddenly build a double-figure advantage, its first such lead of the game. Briggs, the SEC’s No. 4 scorer, wouldn’t be held at bay long, as she tallied six of UF’s first eight in the second half. Following UT’s run, the Gators answered by making four-straight shots and faced a 54-43 deficit at the third quarter media timeout with 3:34 to play in the third. UF bounced back and closed the third on a 13-4 run that included a 6-0 spurt in 18 seconds. Briggs’ fifth 3-pointer of the game made it a 58-54 game with under a minute to go. Scoring 12 points in third, Briggs led the charge as the Gators trailed by just four heading into the fourth. The Gators outscored the Lady Vols in the third, 23-20.
The Gators opened the fourth on a 5-2 run, shrinking the gap to just 60-59 with 6:43 to play, prompting a Tennessee timeout. Out of the stoppage, the super sub Rainey hoisted two 3-point tries that nearly went down but had nothing to show for it as the Lady Vols created some separation with a 6-0 scoring run. Now trailing 66-59, the Gators used a timeout with just over five minutes to play. After the break in play, the Lady Vols increased their run to 10-0 before Farrell, scoring her first career points, canned a three-pointer to make it a 70-62 game. Farrell had six of the Gators’ 10 points in the fourth as they shot just 4-of-24 in the final frame.
NEXT UP: Florida’s next scheduled game is set for Thursday, Feb. 11 at LSU. Florida was due to play Vanderbilt on Feb. 4, but the matchup was canceled.
Associate Head Coach Kelly Rae Finley
On the strong effort from the team…
“I was really proud of our effort. Obviously, being down 1 with six and a half minutes to go on the road. You know, we stuck together. We played hard and we talked about, we don’t want any handouts. So, we didn’t expect any. We knew they wouldn’t give us the game, we had to go earn it, we just came up short in the end.”
On the performance of Smith and Briggs…
“They prepare effortlessly with intention every single day. And so, their consistency has been earned by them. It hasn’t been given and we’re proud of them. Now, we just got to be able to close.”
- Freshman Floor Toonders made her first collegiate start.
- Smith scored 15 or more points for the 10th time this season and fourth time in last five games.
- Smith scored over 20 points for the fourth time in five games and posted her fourth double-double of the season.
- Briggs scored over 20 points for the 8th time this season.
- Farrell scored her first career points, all of which came in the fourth quarter (6).
- UF’s 21 first quarter points were the most it has scored in an opening stanza in league play.