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UF Women’s Basketball: Gators Come Up Just Short Against Seminoles

Despite making 11 three-pointers, the Gators fell short in their first road challenge.

Courtesy of University Athletic Association

BY SAM STOLTE

Women’s basketball puts up major fight in road test but falls 81-75 on Tuesday night

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The University of Florida women’s basketball team (1-1) fell in a tight one Tuesday night as it dropped a 81-75 decision to the host Seminoles at the Donald L. Tucker Center.

Despite a dazzling performance from sophomore guard Nina Rickards, who set a new career best with 18 points, the Gators couldn’t overcome the long and physical Seminoles who won the rebounding battle 52-24.

Streaky shooting and points from FSU turnovers kept the Gators in the game all night long, but the ball wouldn’t bounce Florida’s way in the pivotal moments late, as the Seminoles collected two crucial caroms with under two minutes to play when Florida had cut the gap to 75-72.

Joining the sophomore Rickards in double figures were Lavender Briggs, who added 20, and Kiki Smith, who did a little of everything with 14 points, eight assists, and five rebounds. Smith set the table for Florida and helped initiate the offense with six drawn fouls while Briggs, the sophomore standout, finished with 20 or more points for the fifth time in her career.

The meeting between the in-state rivals was very much a back-and-forth affair as the lead switched hands six times and the contest was tied five times. The Gators led for nine minutes in the game and stretched their lead to as many as eight in the second quarter. Playing with just nine active players, Florida scrapped all night, and both Briggs and Faith Dut fouled out of the hard-fought battle.

The Seminoles, who have finished in the AP Top 25 in six straight seasons, were paced by shifty wing player Morgan Jones, who added 22 points on 10-of-17 shooting. Forward Valencia Myers tallied 14 points and 11 rebounds as well.

The matchup was originally slated to take place Sunday, Nov. 29, but was postponed and eventually rescheduled for Tuesday.

Florida trailed by as many as 11 in the final period and faced a nine-point disadvantage with 2:39 remaining, but after back-to-back three-pointers Florida drew within a single possession with just 1:12 to play. The first trey came courtesy of Rickards, who set a new career high with her fourth made trey, and redshirt-senior guard Danielle Rainey made the second to ignite the Florida bench.

FSU played fast out of the gate, jumping out to an 8-2 lead, but Florida responded with consecutive triples to equalize. The Gators withstood the early blitz from the Seminoles, though, and fought back to carry a 15-14 edge at the first media timeout of the game.

Florida’s hot shooting continued in the back of half of the first stanza, and it led 22-16 at quarter’s end. The Gators connected on eight of their 17 tries overall, including a 4-of-9 mark from distance. Three-pointers were key for UF as they helped sway the game’s momentum in its favor.

The Seminoles used a 12-5 run to regain the lead at 28-27 midway through the second period. After UF trailed 30-27, Rickards stepped into a deep three-pointer and tied the game up. The score was knotted at 30-30 at the second quarter media timeout. After the squads jockeyed back and forth, the Seminoles possessed a narrow lead heading into the half at 39-37.

Rickards led all scorers at the intermission with 13 points as the New York native tied her career high in the first half alone. She made five of her seven attempts including three 3-pointers, which also tied a career high. Briggs checked in with 12 points in the first 20 minutes, wowing the crowd with a slew of nice offensive moves.

Florida employed a 9-2 run to snag a 48-47 lead midway through the third frame. Smith scored on two slashing drives, and Rainey drilled a three from the top of the key to put the Gators ahead.

Florida trailed 49-48 at the third quarter media timeout, but FSU scored five-straight points out of the stoppage to grab a 54-48 lead. A three-pointer off the finger tips of Merritt brought UF within a possession again at 54-51.

The visiting Gators struggled to find a rhythm on offense in the third, and as a result the Seminoles led 59-54 heading into the final 10 minutes of action. Florida made just 7 of its 20 shots in the quarter but Smith came through for six points to keep the Gators close.

After FSU maintained a double-digit advantage for a series of possessions, Briggs dropped in a three-pointer from the wing off a catch-and-shoot to bring the Gators back within seven points at 69-62. Briggs’ trey prompted an FSU timeout.

The Utah native scored eight points in the fourth quarter, connecting on a pair of three-pointers.

In her first career start, freshman forward Jordyn Merritt added eight points and five rebounds. Rainey contributed seven points coming off the bench.

Florida shot 53.8 percent in the fourth quarter and 4-of-7 from long range but couldn’t overcome the ground it lost in the third.

Facing a quick turnaround, UF returns to action tomorrow when it hosts Charleston Southern.

UP NEXT
Wednesday, Dec. 2 | 5 p.m.
Florida vs. Charleston Southern
Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center
SEC Network+

QUOTABLES
Head Coach Cam Newbauer
On key takeaways from the game…
“Understanding that that’s an SEC-caliber team there, that’s a top 25 team. That’s why we wanted to get this game in, to make sure our players understood that it’s not just about playing hard and showing up in practice, it’s about competing at your very best every moment. We just didn’t make enough hustle plays when we had to have them tonight.”
 
“Like I just told the team, let’s not waste a beautiful failure. You’re right there today if you make 1-2 rebounds at the right time, you win the game.”
 
On Nina Rickards’ performance…
“Nina did a great of job just stepping up and taking and making big shots. Just being aggressive, she’s only going to get better.”
 
On the team’s effort in a game that was postponed and rescheduled quickly…
“I really liked it because we didn’t know we were playing until yesterday morning. We weren’t even allowed to practice until Sunday night. So we really didn’t know what was going to happen, but I knew our players wanted to play this game, they were eager, and they were excited. They’re disappointed. They’re disappointed in the outcome and in themselves. What’s great about our locker room is that people don’t care about their individual statistics. They care about us winning and how we play. I think they’re just disappointed because we just got our butts kicked rebounding-wise, and that was the game. I love that we fought, and I do love that we wanted to play this game and love how eager they were. Our last days of prep were really good, I just wish we could have taken care of it at the end of the game.”
 
NOTABLES

  • The Gators and Seminoles met for the 78th time. The Gators hold a 42-35 edge in the all-time series, which dates back to 1975, but have dropped the last five.
  • Tuesday marked the head coaching debut for FSU Interim Head Coach Brooke Wyckoff who takes over this season for long-time head coach Sue Semrau who is taking a leave of absence.
  • Freshman forward Jordyn Merritt made her first career start.
  • Nina Rickards set a new career high with 18 points and a new career high with four made three-pointers. She also added four steals.
  • Lavender Briggs scored 20 or more points for the fifth time in her career.