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UF Women’s Basketball: Gators Bring Fight to Fayetteville but Fall in Shoot-out, 84-80

Lavender Briggs scored 41 points Thursday, the fourth-highest single game total in NCAA Division so far this season.

Courtesy of University Athletic Association

BY SAM STOLTE

Lavender Briggs puts together historic game with 41 points in narrow road loss

Despite a career-high 41 points from sophomore standout Lavender Briggs, the University of Florida women’s basketball team fell in an offensive shoot-out at No. 17 Arkansas, 84-80, Thursday night inside of Bud Walton Arena.

Briggs’ 41 points were the most scored by a Florida player since Ronni Williams tallied 43 in January of 2017 and the fourth-highest single game tally in program history.

Briggs, who entered the game averaging 20 points per game in league play, doubled that figure and more as she connected on 17 of her 29 shots, which included a career-best six 3-point makes. Backcourt mate Kiki Smith was also terrific as she poured in 21 points and knocked down a career-best nine free throws. Briggs became just the fourth player in all of NCAA Division I this season to eclipse the 40-point mark in a single game. 

Continuing their rigorous start to conference play, the Gators battled their fourth AP Top 25 team in their first five SEC contests and trailed by just five points with 1:30 to play but could not break through against the veteran Razorbacks.

Despite outscoring Arkansas in every quarter but the first and shooting an impressive 47.5 percent from the floor, the Gators came up just short against the Razorbacks, who were led by senior Chelsea Dungee’s 33 points.

After Briggs connected on a mid-range jumper to cut the Arkansas lead to 79-74 at the 1:30 mark in the fourth, Arkansas built its lead back to seven as Dungee made four straight free throws late in the game. Briggs’ sixth 3-pointer of the night in the final moments made the score 84-80.

Florida, the only team in the conference to have opened its season having played four ranked opponents in its first five games of the league season, put together its best shooting performance since mid-December against Tarleton State. UF, which scored the 83-80 upset over No. 22 Arkansas in Gainesville a season ago, was within two possessions of the Razorbacks late after trailing by 14 midway through the third quarter. Despite several runs, including a 10-0 spurt late in the third quarter, Florida couldn’t quite break through for a signature win.

The Gators, in search of their first victory over an AP Top 25 on the road since Feb. 2, 2020, when they posted a 70-62 win at No. 13 Kentucky, played aggressively and in attack-mode all game, registering 26 free throw attempts, their most since Dec. 7 versus FAU.

After Briggs scored the game’s first points just nine seconds in on a rhythm three-pointer from the wing, the Razorbacks employed a 11-0 run to jump ahead 11-3 as UF’s offense went cold. The Razorbacks made five of seven shots during the stretch, while Florida was just two of 10. After another Briggs triple trimmed the gap to 15-13, the hot-shooting Hogs employed another run, this time at 7-0, to construct a 22-13 advantage. Briggs then poured in her third three-pointer to draw the score back to 22-18, but Arkansas again responded with a flurry of scoring, and it scored the last six points of the frame to lead 28-18 after the initial 10 segment had expired. Arkansas, one of the nation’s best offensive units, made 9 of its 19 attempts in the first quarter, while Florida made six of 18. Briggs and Dungee, two of the league’s finest scorers, showed why with 13 and 12 points, respectively, in the first quarter.

It was clear from the onset that Briggs and Smith came to play as Florida’s dynamic duo tallied 21 of UF’s first 26 points.

To open the second, Florida held Arkansas scoreless for over two minutes midway through the stanza, allowing it to creep back into the game at 37-29. After an impressive rim attack and finish from Jordyn Merritt, Florida trailed 39-31 at the second quarter media timeout. The second quarter was played at a frantic pace, as Florida outscored Arkansas 26-24. UF shot a blistering 69.2 percent from the floor, knocking down 9 of its 13 shots. The senior Smith was sensational in the second, probing to the rim with supreme confidence and scoring 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting and a 4-of-6 mark from the charity stripe. After Arkansas led 37-24, the Gators came charging back and drew the deficit to seven at two different points in the stanza.

Despite 32 first-half points between Briggs and Smith, Florida faced a 52-44 deficit at the break. What was expected to be a game played at a track-meet like pace, certainly was as both teams shot above 45 percent in the opening half.

Following some back-and-forth play to open the second, Arkansas suddenly built its lead to 14 after a three-pointer from Amber Ramirez with 5:23 in the third. After the media timeout, Florida just as suddenly scored 10 straight points to pull within four at 64-60 following a free throw from Merritt. Dungee scored the next five points for Arkansas as its lead surged back to nine, but a patented pull-up jumper from Briggs late made it 69-62 heading into the fourth.

The Gators endured a scoreless drought of over three minutes early in the fourth, but luckily the Hogs had some scoring struggles of their own. Briggs snapped the scoreless spell at the 5:59 mark with her 28th and 29th points on a driving layup to trim the gap to 75-66 in favor of Arkansas. From this point forward, Florida would come within two possessions three times but could not get the stop or the break it needed to finish off its upset bid. Briggs finished with an eye-popping 16 points in the fourth quarter as she would never back down when her team was on the ropes. Briggs made seven of her nine tries in the frame. Dungee had eight in the quarter for Arkansas as the gifted play-makers duked it out in an entertaining back-and-forth display.

Briggs and Smith shouldered the majority of the offensive load with a combined 62 points, while Kristina Moore and Merritt played effectively with five points and three rebounds apiece.

After a then-career-high 26 points in last season’s upset of Arkansas, Smith followed that up with 21 points and five assists Thursday.

NEXT UP: After back-to-back road games, Florida returns home Sunday, Jan. 17, when it welcomes Auburn for a 1 p.m. ET tip at Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The game will be broadcast to a national audience on the SEC Network with Tiffany Greene and Steffi Sorensen on the call.

QUOTABLES

Head Coach Cam Newbauer

Overall reaction from what you saw from the Gators tonight…
“I really liked our fight in the second half. I liked our belief, even when we were down five with about a minute and a half to go. Really saw conviction in our players eyes and believed that we could win the game. and that was great. We really had some spurts and some moments that weren’t great, but we fought back to give ourselves a chance. Just had a few miscues here and there that seemed to be our Achilles heel in these games. But you know you’re on the road playing a top-15 team with some great players and overall that that first half we just had too many mishaps and untimely scores with some defensive breakdowns.”

On Briggs’ career night…
“Her pace was really good from the get-go when she hit that three. She just had a lot of good rhythm. I was trying to get her more looks and just couldn’t get her as many as I wanted her to get, but she seemed to have the feel early and was just flowing real nicely. I thought the players were getting her the ball and great opportunities to score. She’s a competitor. We’ve said it from day one, even since before she got here, that this young lady wanted to come here and really try to put us on the map and change this program for the better, and that’s what she’s done.”

NOTABLES

  • Lavender Briggs scored 41 points Thursday, the most by a Florida Gator since Ronni Williams tallied 43 at Vanderbilt on Jan. 29, 2017. Florida’s record for most points in a single game is 45 by Quientella Bonner against Chattanooga on Jan. 22, 1977.
  • Briggs’ 41 are the fourth-most points scored in a single game in program history. 
  • Briggs established new career highs in points, field goals made, field goals attempted, and three-pointers made.
  • Smith scored 17 first half points, tying her most points in a half in her career.
  • Florida scored 44 or more points in a first half for the fourth time this season
  • It was the 41st meeting all time between the programs; Florida leads the series 29-12.
  • Thursday’s matchup featured one of the league’s best three-point shooting teams in Arkansas (.371) and one of the league’s best in terms of defending the arc in Florida (.240).
  • Florida and Arkansas were tied in terms of rebounding (34) and points in the paint (34).
  • Dungee and Destiny Slocum combined for 50 points for the Razorbacks.
  • Florida shot over 50 percent in the second quarter (9-of-13) and the fourth quarter (8-of-15).
  • Floor Toonders had a team-high six rebounds after collecting eight at UGA.
  • Florida scored over 80 points for the sixth time this season.
  • Florida is the only team in the league to take on four AP Top 25 opponents in its first five conference games.
  • All five of the Gators’ conference foes so far are ranked within the top 30 of the NCAA Net tool.
  • UF’s only matchup against a non-ranked team in league play came against Georgia who is receiving votes in both the AP and the Coaches polls and is nestled at No. 16 in the NCAA’s most recent NET rankings.