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UF Women’s Basketball: Gators Gobble Up Grambling State in Season Opener

Redshirt-senior guard Kiki Smith tallied 20 points in the season-opening victory.
Photo By: Tim Casey

Courtesy of University Athletic Association

BY SAM STOLTE

Women’s basketball races past Grambling State 90-47 to kick off campaign

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The University of Florida women’s basketball team kicked off its 2020-21 season with a convincing win, dispatching Grambling State 90-47 Wednesday at Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Florida’s 43-point victory was its largest in a season opener since 2002, and its 90 points scored were its most in a season opener since 2013.

Tipping off their season on the latest calendar date since 1994, it was worth the wait for the Gators, who pulled away from the Tigers with a balanced offensive attack. All 10 players who appeared in the game scored, and six players finished with eight or more points. There weren’t any signs of rust from the home team, as Florida connected on 50 percent of its field goal tries (29-of-58) and 42.9 percent of its attempts from distance (9-of-21).
 
Redshirt senior guard Kiki Smith was terrific, pacing the Gators with 20 points, 11 rebounds, and three assists. Preseason All-SEC selection Lavender Briggs, scoring in double figures for the 27th time in her career, came through for 13 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists. Smith scored the game’s first basket, a left-handed floater that set the tone for the rest of the game. Florida never trailed in the game and held the lead for 39:44.
 
For Briggs, it was her eighth career double-double, while Smith’s was her third.
 
When the teams met 386 days ago at Grambling State, Florida battled to a 72-65 win and trailed going into the fourth quarter. Wednesday afternoon was a different story; that was apparent from the first few minutes of play.
 
After only scoring 10 points in the first quarter of last season’s matchup, Florida tallied 23 in this season’s showdown and notched a 13-point advantage by the stanza’s end.
 
Playing in an organized game for the first time in 629 days, redshirt senior guard Danielle Rainey exploded for 18 points off the bench. In the first half, Rainey stole the show, pouring in 11 points in her first game action since the 2018-19 campaign. The Texas native knocked down three 3-pointers to provide a major spark to the Gators’ second unit.

The Gators came out of the blocks aggressive, establishing a 12-2 lead fueled by an 8-0 scoring run. Florida connected on seven of its first 11 tries in the contest.
 
The Gators built a 28-14 lead, but Grambling State sliced into the advantage with an 8-1 run early in the second quarter. GSU cut the lead to seven, but Florida flexed its muscles with an 18-2 run to end the half. This run created a sizable gap between the teams at the break.   
 
In the third, Florida’s pace slowed down a bit with 16 points, but it held Grambling State to just 10. The Gators went 8-of-10 from the charity stripe in the quarter.
 
In the fourth, with several reserves seeing action, Florida totaled its highest quarter output with 27. The Gator reserves scored 20 points in the fourth, and the team shot 64 percent as a whole.
 
Sophomore Nina Rickards added nine points and eight rebounds, while Jordyn Merritt and Faith Dut added eight apiece. Merritt scored all eight of her points in the final stanza.
 
After carrying a 47-24 edge heading into the intermission, Florida padded its lead by outscoring the Tigers 43-23 in the final 20 minutes.

In the battle of the benches, Florida won 33-19.
 
QUOTABLES

Head Coach Cam Newbauer

Opening Statement
“Just want to thank our administration, the Southeastern Conference, and all the healthcare providers and professionals for what they have done in order to create a safe environment for us to compete. It has been a long time since we have been out there, and I think everyone could see the energy and enthusiasm of our players to be able to be out there. I appreciate what our community is doing as well in order to abide by certain protocols that they need to mitigate the risk. Could not be more thankful to be here today competing. Happy Thanksgiving everyone, I hope everyone has a great time with their family and loved ones tomorrow. Glad we were able to get this W under our belt before tomorrow so we can relax a little more. Grambling is a tough, competitive team that played us very well at their place last year, and I thought we came out and really asserted our will. We got after it – it wasn’t the prettiest, but at times we had some really good moments, unselfish moments. I’m really proud of Kiki and her leadership today. Proud of who she is continuing to become. Also very proud of Danielle Rainey, after having such a tough journey and being away for so long, she really played within herself today. I think everyone scored for us, which is a great feeling for our new players to get a bucket in their first game on the home court. Overall, I’m pleased, but we have to keep working and getting better.”

On last year’s result vs. this year’s result….
“Seriousness. Determination. Wanting to be better. Last year, we had a very young team on court and our team was not happy how we performed, but we learned from that. Our team has been very focused and driven; they are just happy to be out playing basketball again. Having a group that wants to play and compete and be better than we have ever been has been the difference. That is what we have been building and working towards. We had a really fun time with this group today.”
 
On creating distance in the second quarter….
“Defense is how we were able to break away. We weren’t very happy defensively with what was going on, so we wanted to try to tighten that up a bit. We wanted to try to ramp that up and get our defensive intensity more focused and active. Trying to force things defensively rather than just sitting back and guarding. That’s something that our players want to try to do. Grambling started attacking a bit more, which put us on our heels, so we have to be better at being consistent. Coming out and staying with that same intensity the entire game, especially when it comes to Sunday against Florida State.”
 
Redshirt-Senior Guard Kiki Smith
On being back to action…
“It was nice. You know, we haven’t played a game since March and quarantine happened and we all went home for five months, and you know, it was just anxiousness. We were doing a lot of practice, practice, practice, a lot of drill work, a lot of all of that. We just wanted to actually go out there and do what we all had been working on, so it felt good to actually do live what we had been working on.”
 
On having Danielle Rainey back on the court…
“It was nice. You know, she (Danielle Rainey) has been waiting for this moment for a long time, you know she has been waiting since October last year. I’m proud of her, I’m glad to have her back on the court.”
 
On the teammates coming off the bench and performing…
“I was really proud (of the bench). Especially because it’s hard when you’re there and just watching everybody else playing, and like I said earlier, you want to get out there. It was good to see them be ready. Jordyn (Merritt) was ready with a catch-and-shoot, Em (Emily Sullivan) came in, posted up strong. I think that was really good, you know? Knowing that we can go out there and do what we’ve got to do.” 
 
Redshirt-Senior Guard Danielle Rainey
On being back to action…
“It was an amazing feeling. I haven’t played, haven’t touched the ball in a live game since October (2019). The feeling – I can’t even really describe it, my teammates before the game really came up to me and poured into me, you know, trying to get me as hyped as possible. I was already hyped, but they just added into it. Coming into the game, I was just thinking, you know it’s just a blessing to be back out here, no matter the outcome, no matter what, it’s just a blessing to be back out here. It was great to have the support of my teammates and the coaches.”
 
On if there were any nerves prior to the game…
“There were no nerves, I’m not even going to lie to you. There were no nerves. It was more like anxiousness, it wasn’t like, nervous, you know, the game don’t change. I mean I went out there and I knew, besides the scoring part, I knew I had to do what I had to do to help contribute to the team. Kiki (Smith), my point guard here was, you know, looking for me and telling me reads to make and stuff like that.”
 
On the team’s improvement from playing Grambling State last season to this season…
“I think we just had an awareness of what we needed to do. I think when we played them last year, I think we kind of, we came in with an attitude where we thought we were just going to walk in and things were just going to fall into our hands and I think this time we had an awareness and respect for them that we should’ve before. We just kind of came in with an awareness to perform the way we know we can perform and do the things we know we can do as a team.”
 
UP NEXT
Sunday, Nov. 29 | Noon ET
Florida at Florida State
Donald L. Tucker Center | Tallahassee, Fla.
ACC Network
 
NOTABLES

  • Florida improves to 28-19 record in season lid-lifters.
  • The Gators are now 13-2 against the SWAC and 2-0 vs. Grambling State.
  • Florida’s 43-point victory was its largest in a season opener since 2002, and its 90 points scored were its most since 2013.
  • Florida’s offensive production included 10 different scorers.
  • The Gators, who did not tally 90 or more points a single time in 2019-20, scored 90 in their first game of the season.
  • Wednesday marked Florida’s first time scoring 90 or more points since Nov. 23 of 2017.
  • Four players made their Florida debut, with freshman Jordyn Merritt and Floor Toonders  and graduate transfers Emily Sullivan and Cydnee Kinslow donning the Orange and Blue for the first time.