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UF Women’s Basketball: Florida Fights Hard But Falls at No. 5 South Carolina in Final Act of 2020

Lavender Briggs led the Gators for the sixth time this season and finished with 20 or more points for the fifth time.

Courtesy of University Athletic Association

BY SAM STOLTE

Women’s basketball puts forth spirited effort on the road at SEC stalwart but falls short, 75-59

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The University of Florida women’s basketball team (7-2) saw its six-game winning streak come to a close Thursday, as it fell on the road to No. 5 South Carolina, 75-59, in its conference opener at the Colonial Life Arena.
 
Florida started off the game slow, but its fight never wavered as it outscored the Gamecocks 29-18 in the third quarter and pulled within 10 heading into the final frame. After the Gamecocks built a lead as large as 22 early in the third, Florida came storming back, fueled by an inspired effort and a dazzling offensive performance.
 
The Gators’ 29 third quarter points were the most scored in a period against South Carolina this season. Florida made 12 of its 19 shots in the stanza, tallying 25 or more points in a period for the eighth time this year.
 
Leading the Gators in scoring for the sixth time this season, sophomore Lavender Briggs carried Florida with 23 points, six rebounds, and three assists. The Preseason All-SEC selection scored 20 or more points for the fifth time and collected her eighth double-figure scoring effort this season.
 
The Gators’ defense kept them in it as they limited the Gamecocks to just 39.2 percent shooting, their second-lowest mark of the season.
 
On a night when the Gamecocks unveiled their 2019-20 SEC Championship banner, two of USC’s top returning players showed why, as reigning National Freshman of the Year Aliyah Boston poured in a career-best 28 points to go with 11 rebounds and four blocks. Guard Zia Cooke finished just short of a career high with 26 of her own.
 
Sophomore Nina Rickards put together another solid all-around game for the Gators as she contributed eight points and eight rebounds.
 
After some early turnovers, Florida fell behind 6-0 but battled back to trim the gap to 8-6 at the game’s first media timeout. The Gamecocks scored six straight points out of the stoppage and led 14-6 at quarter’s end. Florida struggled with the Gamecocks’ length and had difficulty scoring, but it executed a sound game plan on defense as it limited USC to its second-fewest first-quarter points of the season. Florida, in search of its first win over a top-five program since 2006, attacked persistently in the early going, but the lengthy Gamecock frontline blocked six of its shots and forced seven turnovers.

Briggs came out locked-in and scored Florida’s first seven points of the second quarter, helping the Gators draw within three at 16-13. USC responded with a 10-0 scoring run, and a jump hook by Boston prompted a Florida timeout with 5:33 to play. The Gamecocks’ scoring surge spread to 15-0 after the 6-foot-5 Boston connected on a three-pointer from the wing. Rickards eventually snapped the run with a steal and coast-to-coast layup. Heading into the break, Florida faced a 39-18 deficit. Senior guard Kiki Smith picked up her second foul early in the second and was forced to go to the bench.

Following an 18-point first half, Florida’s offense erupted in the third as it outscored USC 29-18, shooting 63 percent from the floor. The Gators, who came out of the locker room with a chip on their shoulder and new sense of fight, employed a series of scoring runs, including an 8-0 surge late in the frame, to push back against the Gamecocks. Florida really found its footing offensively midway through the frame as it connected on seven straight field goals to narrow the deficit to 49-33 with 4:13 to play in the third. The Gators made 10 of 12 field goals in a stretch and, after a three-pointer from Jordyn Merritt, trailed by just 10 at 53-43 with under two minutes to play. Following a score by Rickards at the third quarter’s final horn, Florida was behind just 57-47 heading into the fourth.

To open the fourth, the high-powered Gamecocks scored six of the first seven points to rebuild their lead back to 63-48. After some back-and-forth play, Briggs willed the Gators to within 12 points at 68-56 with 2:43 to play. The 6-foot-1 guard scored eight straight for Florida as she attacked and finished against the daunting Gamecock defense. Despite her efforts, 12 is as close as the Gators would come as the host Gamecocks pulled away for their 17th straight SEC win. USC improved to 160-34 at home under 13th-year head coach Dawn Staley.
 
NEXT UP: Florida hosts its 2020-21 SEC home opener Sunday, Jan. 3, when it welcomes No. 9 Texas A&M to Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Tipoff between the Gators and Aggies is slated for 1 p.m. ET and will be broadcast nationally on the SEC Network.

QUOTABLES

Head Coach Cam Newbauer

On team’s performance tonight…
“We came out and we played hard, but I wouldn’t say that we really competed at the beginning. And they weren’t happy in the locker room with that. So in the third quarter, they really made it a point to really come out and compete and fight. That’s what you get in the SEC. And for a lot of young kids that have never played in a SEC game, that’s what you learn in this game right away. First SEC game on the road, at one of the top programs in the country with some of the best players in the country.
 
“I don’t like the result but I really like the result of the second half with how hard we fought and how hard we competed. I’ll take that any day and I think that our kids really grew a lot in that second half in just understanding, you got to play fearless.”
 
On how team moves forward…
 “If that’s what we got out of this with 15 more regular season games then let’s go and keep running and see what we can become. It’s all part of a journey of a season. It’s frustrating to go 0-1 in conference, but that’s how the ball bounces sometimes and we’re going to get back up and we’re going to be preparing tomorrow for our next game on Sunday.”

NOTABLES

  • The sophomore Briggs finished in double figures for the eighth time this season and led the Gators in scoring for the sixth time. She has five games with 20 or more points already this year.
  • Nina Rickards has 40 rebounds over her last three games from the guard position.
  • UF’s 29 third quarter points were the most tallied in a period against the Gamecocks this season.
  • Thursday marked the first of three straight games Florida will play against teams currently ranked in the top 12 of the AP Top 25, as it hosts No. 9 Texas A&M and No. 12 Mississippi St. on Jan. 3 and Jan. 7, respectively. The last time the Gators began an SEC slate with three straight opponents ranked in the top 12 was 1986-87 when they started with No. 11 UGA, No. 8 Ole Miss, and No. 2 Tennessee.
  • Eight different players scored for Florida.
  • UF falls to 19-24 all time in SEC lidlifters and is 7-15 in SEC openers played on the road.
  • Florida finished 7-of-17 from three-point range, including a 4-of-6 mark in the third period.

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