HomeSportsUF Women’s Basketball: Gators Drop Hard-fought Battle to Missouri, 61-58
UF Women’s Basketball: Gators Drop Hard-fought Battle to Missouri, 61-58
January 29, 2021
Courtesy of University Athletic Association
BY SAM STOLTE
Women’s basketball hangs tough until final moments but comes up short Thursday night
The University of Florida women’s basketball team fell in a hard-fought battle to visiting Missouri Thursday night inside Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, dropping a 61-58 decision despite outscoring the Tigers in the second half.
In a back-and-forth contest, Florida crept within a single possession on several occasions late in the game but could not quite break through, as it saw its two-game winning streak come to a close. Sophomore Lavender Briggs, finishing with her third career double-double, tallied a game-high 19 points to go with 11 boards, while senior guard Kiki Smith scored 14 and added six rebounds.
The Gators’ defense and effort on the glass kept them in it all night long despite a tough shooting performance from the floor and from the free throw line. UF limited Missouri, which entered the game shooting 55 percent from the field on the season, to just 33.3 percent shooting and out-rebounded the Tigers, 54-47
The Gators fought hard without fourth-year head coach Cam Newbauer on the sidelines, who missed the game due to health and safety protocols. Associate head coach Kelly Rae Finley served as Florida’s acting head coach for the second-straight game.
Coming out of a timeout, the Gators had a chance to tie the game in its final moments, but Briggs lost hold of ball while attacking the rim, and it bounced away to a group of Missouri players as time expired. Briggs scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, making 3-of-4 field goals and 5-of-6 free throw attempts; her lone miss from the stripe came with nine seconds left with the Gators trailing by two.
Freshman Floor Toonders played an integral role in Florida’s rebounding success, as the rookie from the Netherlands collected a career-best 13 rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench and earned UF’s crunch time minutes late in the game. Six of Toonders’ rebounds came on the offensive end, helping contribute to UF’s total of 26 offensive boards.
Despite their outstanding effort on defense and in the rebounding category, Florida’s ship was sunk due to its struggle to shoot. UF shot a season-low 29.6 percent from the floor and made just 12 of its 25 free throw attempts. A lid was on the rim for the Gators in the early going, especially from three-point range, and they couldn’t overcome the slow start.
Missouri led for over 34 minutes but never really built a commanding edge, as the Gators continued to fight and claw during their off shooting night. After trailing by 11 in the second quarter, Florida’s fight allowed it to have a chance to tie or win the game late.
South Carolina transfer Ladazhia Williams paced the Tigers with 16 points and eight rebounds, while All-SEC talent Aijha Blackwell added 14 points and a game-high 16 rebounds.
After the teams combined to start 0-of-9 from the floor, Faith Dut scored the game’s first basket at the 7:03 mark of the opening frame. Florida’s lead was short-lived, though, as Missouri answered with an 8-0 run and led 8-2 at the first media timeout. The Gators moved the ball but could not buy a bucket early, missing 13 of their first 14 shots. During the slow stretch, Missouri extended its run to 10-0 before Briggs connected on a baseline jumper to snap the skid. After a running layup would not go in for Smith, Kristina Moore grabbed the rebound and made a short jumper at the first quarter horn to make it 17-11 in favor of Missouri. Florida shot just 5-of-20 from the field in the first period, including a 1-of-9 effort from the three-point line.
The Gators’ cold shooting spilled into the second period as it scored just 10 points. Florida registered just five field goals in the stanza, but its defense kept it within striking distance as it trailed by only eight at 29-21 at the intermission.
Florida’s dynamic scoring duo of Smith and Briggs combined for only eight first-half points, shooting a collective 4-of-24 from the floor. Missouri’s three-point shooting early allowed it to bolster its lead as it made three of its first six tries, while the Gators connected on just one of their 16 attempts in the half.
Scoring just 21 first-half points, Florida checked in at the break with its second-lowest first-half total of the season.
Florida’s fortunes would turn quickly, though, as Nina Rickards scored the first five points of the second half on a lay-up and a three-pointer from the wing to cut the deficit back to three. After a pair of conversions from the charity stripe from Smith with 8:05 on the clock, the Gators were within one point, suddenly. Toonders then grabbed an offensive rebound and put it back in to tie it up at 33-33 with under five minutes to play. Late in the quarter, senior Danielle Rainey poured in a three from the corner to make it 40-38, but Missouri’s Haley Troup converted a field goal attempt with just seconds remaining to make it 42-38 heading into the fourth.
Florida used the third quarter to interject itself back into the game, outscoring Missouri 17-13 in the frame. The Gators made three of their five total 3-pointers in the period.
The fourth quarter began with a driving lay-up off the fingertips of Briggs as the Gators again were within a single possession. For the next few minutes, Florida would stay within five or fewer points and even came within one at 49-48 after a pair of Briggs’ free throws. After a media timeout with 5:53 to play, Missouri employed a 7-0 run and led 56-48 with just under four minutes remaining. Following some back-and-forth possessions, Briggs scored again on a pull-up jumper, making the score 58-55 with 2:24 to play. After an empty trip to the free throw line with 1:54 to play when the Gators had a chance to pull within one point, Smith responded by cashing in on both of her tries with 59 seconds left to make it 58-57, Missouri.
Freshman Jordyn Merritt had an opportunity to give the Gators the lead following a clutch offensive rebound. Merritt was fouled after collecting the board and was sent to the line with the bonus in effect. With 46 seconds left, Merritt saw both attempts rim out.
A missed runner from Blackwell on the ensuing possession left the door open for Florida to take the lead with 20 seconds to play, but Briggs, after grabbing the rebound, lost control of the ball near mid-court when she began to make an attack at the rim. Missouri’s Mama Dembele stole it and was fouled immediately by Briggs with 16 seconds to play. Dembele made just one, and following the rebound by Toonders, Florida called a timeout, trailing 59-57.
Out of the timeout, Briggs drove and drew a foul, but like Dembele she also split her two tries at the line. Florida elected to foul the Tigers’ Hayley Frank, who made both attempts as the Gators would have a shot to tie it with eight seconds and the ball on a sideline out-of-bounds with the score standing at 61-58. The Gators got the ball in to Briggs, but the Missouri defense collapsed on her and forced the turnover.
In the final two minutes, Florida made just four of its eight free throw attempts.
The Gators and the Tigers will meet again on Feb. 21 in Columbia. Mizzou is one of two teams Florida is slated to play twice (Georgia).
NEXT UP: Florida returns to the rigors of road life in the SEC when it travels to No. 20 Tennessee Sunday. Tipoff is slated for 2 p.m. ET and will be broadcast to a national audience on ESPNU.
On fighting though a tough shooting night to make it a close game… “Yeah, we knew that we would have to play excellent defense tonight to keep the game close. I thought our looks, we got really good looks early on, they just weren’t falling. That’s really hard to fight through, so I was really proud of our team’s effort and their ability to stay connected throughout the whole game. We had some people that were in situations that they’ve never been in before, right, with a young team and when you look the floor you got a senior point guard, you got two sophomores, and two freshmen on the floor to end the game. So, hopefully we got some things that we can learn from. Obviously, it’s awesome to learn with a win, but Missouri is obviously a very good team and it was a good competition tonight.”
On Floor Toonders and other freshmen getting important minutes… “Yeah, for sure. I think that was maybe the most minutes that Floor has played. She’s worked really hard and tirelessly on her rebounding and her strength, something that she’s known she has to improve on and does that daily with Coach Erika and the rest of our staff. So, to see her with six offensive rebounds and be rewarded for her efforts is really great. And then I think that is a career high with 13 rebounds total, overall it’s really nice.”
Senior Kiki Smith On battling through a tough shooting night… “We played defense. You know, we got the stops when we wanted them and when we needed them. We were aggressive and got to the free throw line. We didn’t knock down the free throws every time we got there, but hitting one still was a point on our end, so that was good. Floor came in and got 13 rebounds, so that was big. Big time rebounds in big time moments, so that really helped us out a lot. And our thing was, once we really started in transition, they really couldn’t get back with us when we got the stops and transitioned into offense, so that was good.”
On the positives to build on for upcoming games… “Just the fact that we had a lot of players come in, step in, and make plays happen for us. Like I mentioned, Floor, Danielle came in and knocked down a three in crunch time for us, Jordyn came in to do what she had to do. Me and Lav have a better shooting night and our bench gives us what we gave us tonight, we are a really good team.”
Florida limited Missouri to nearly 20 percent lower than its season average shooting, percentage-wise.