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UF Women’s Basketball: Gators Overpower Ospreys in Non-Conference Finale

Photo by Tim Casey

Courtesy of University Athletic Association

BY SAM STOLTE

Women’s basketball racks up sixth-straight win to finish non-league slate 7-1

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Posting its sixth-straight victory, the University of Florida women’s basketball team (7-1) overpowered the visiting North Florida Ospreys, 89-64, Monday afternoon at Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in its non-conference finale. 
 
At 7-1, Florida finishes the non-conference slate with its best winning percentage (.875) in five years.
 
The Gators came out hot, scoring a season-best 31 first quarter points, and never looked back as they extended their record to 6-0 at home. Paced by a fast-paced and versatile offense, the Gators featured five double-figure scorers, led by sophomore standout Lavender Briggs and newcomer Jordyn Merritt, who added 15 points apiece. For Briggs, it was the All-SEC talent’s 33rd time scoring in double figures in her career, while it was the rookie Merritt’s first and a new career high for the talented Texan.
 
Also scoring in double figures were junior Kristina Moore, who tied her career best with 12, super sub Danielle Rainey, who poured in 14, and senior point guard Kiki Smith. Smith finished just shy of a double-double with 11 points and nine boards, while Briggs made a run at a triple-double with eight rebounds and a season-high seven assists to go with her team-high 15.
 
Battling the Ospreys’ zone defense, the Gators dominated the rebounding category, hauling in a season-best 61 including 31 on the offensive end alone. Sophomore Nina Rickards accounted for 15 of those rebounds, as the physical guard followed up the career-high 17 she snatched last time out against Tarleton State. The New York native was particularly relentless on the offensive end, corralling 11 offensive rebounds.
 
The Gators, scoring 80 or more points for the fifth time this season, shot just 25.9 percent from three-point range but made several timely triples to go with 40 points in the painted region.
 
Florida, which led for over 39 minutes and by as many as 33 points, improved to 6-0 all time against the in-state foe. UNF entered the contest averaging over 10 three-pointers a game, one of the best marks in the nation, but was limited to just five by Florida’s elite perimeter defense. Florida, which entered the contest allowing opponents to shoot just 18.0 percent from three-point range on average, limited the sharp-shooting Ospreys to a mere 22.7 percent.

Florida led 9-4 at the game’s first stoppage, as Briggs scored five quick points, including a pull-up jumper which prompted a UNF timeout early. After some early misses, Florida made it clear from the jump that the rebounding edge would belong to it as it collected five offensive rebounds in the first three minutes and attacked the glass with aggression. Florida employed a 12-1 run to jump out to a 17-5 lead. Following a week off from game action, the Gators came out rejuvenated and motivated as they hung 31 points on the Ospreys in the opening 10 minutes, a season high for points scored in any period this season. Florida made 13 of its 26 shots in the frame, and six different Gators scored. Rainey, who has shown the ability to heat up fast in a short amount of time in her career, tallied 10 points in the opening stanza. The redshirt senior made three of her four attempts, including a sequence of back-to-back three-pointers that helped UF pull away.

The scoring and the pace slowed down considerably in the second quarter, as the teams combined for 27 points after combining for 42 in the first. Both Merritt and Moore registered five points in the second quarter as the Gators cooled off a bit and endured a scoring cold spell early. At the end of the first half, Florida carried a 45-24 edge after shooting 46.3 percent and limiting the Ospreys to just a 28.1 clip. Florida’s 24 points allowed were its second fewest in a first half this season. Playing against the zone defense the Ospreys employed, Florida attempted 18 treys in the first half, making five.

Its offense would again ignite in the third period as UF scored 24 points, led by Briggs’ seven. Following a 24-point first half, the Ospreys found more success in the third period as they recorded 20 points in the second half’s opening 10 minutes. A pull-up jumper by Briggs gave Florida what would end up being its largest lead of the game at 65-32 with 3:08 to play in the third. Moore scored six of her 12 points in the stanza, knocking down a pair of three-pointers.

In the fourth, the teams would play to a 20-20 stalemate as the Gators relied heavily on their reserve players. Merritt added six points on an array of impressive finishes around the rim, while fellow rookie Floor Toonders notched five points in her three minutes of action in the fourth.

The Atlantic Sun’s preseason player of the year, Jazz Bond, paced UNF with 16 points and five rebounds.

NEXT UP: Florida’s SEC opener will take place Thursday, Dec. 31, at Vanderbilt as the Gators, for the fourth straight season, begin their conference campaign away from home. Florida has picked up five consecutive wins against Vanderbilt, its longest active streak against any SEC opponent.

QUOTABLES

Head Coach Cam Newbauer

On the team’s performance and stopping the UNF offense…
“We knew they were going to be a challenge for us defensively with how many 3’s they like to shoot and make. Didn’t necessarily like that we gave up 20 [points] in the 3rd and 4th, but we adjusted well to what we were doing defensively and took advantage. Any time you play a team that can really shoot it from deep — I think they average almost 11 three’s a game, their three main players can really shoot it from three, a high percentage — so we wanted to make sure we covered the three-point line.”
 
On adjustments to make going into SEC play…
“Making hustle plays and trying to track down loose balls. We gave up seven offensive rebounds today in the 2nd quarter — wasn’t happy with that. Just defensively, you got to be able to make adjustments throughout the course of the game and stay locked in on certain assignments. Just a little more consistency.”
 
Junior guard Kristina Moore
On staying fresh and playing well as a team…
“We just really focused on our fundamentals in practice. Not getting too confused with new plays and all of that other stuff. So, we really just tried to focus on our fundamentals and what we do best, and we really showed that today. You know, we came out with a great win.”
 
On locking down on the defensive end…
“Yeah, we know that we can score. We really like to push in transition. But, you know, the past couple games I think we’ve really relaxed a bit too much on defense and so we just really tried to focus on that in practice. You know, go back to our fundamentals and our basics to really just step up our defense to that next level.”
 
Freshman forward Jordyn Merritt
On her career high…
“I just think my teammates find me and get me that ball whenever I was open, kind of helped with that. Cam just said at halftime: ‘play hard and everything will take care of itself.’ After the half, I was just like play hard and my shots will come. Work on defense, crash the boards, and everything will take care of itself.”
 
On her growing confidence…
“Yes, definitely a lot of confidence. I feel like, mostly, that comes from practice. My teammates of course helping me out and you know, helping that confidence remain there. And then also with the coaching staff, they’re really supportive and they put a big emphasis on me relaxing, not thinking too much, and just going out there and playing.”
 
NOTABLES

  • Florida posted its sixth straight win, notching its longest winning streak since the 2015-16 season.
  • At 7-1, Florida finished with its best winning percentage (.875) in non-conference play since it posted a 12-1 record (.923) during the 2015-16 season.
  • The Gators are 6-0 at home for the first time since the 2015-16 campaign.
  • Nina Rickards has collected 32 rebounds in the last two games, from the guard position.
  • Jordyn Merritt tallied a career-best 15 points and made seven field goals.
  • Kristina Moore tied her a career high with 12 points.
  • UF improves to 6-0 all time vs. UNF.
  • The Gators have posted wins in six straight non-conference finales, including four in a row under head coach Cam Newbauer.
  • 10 players scored for Florida.
  • Lavender Briggs scored in double figures for the seventh time in eight games to open the season and set a new season best with seven assists. She also tied her career best with three steals.
  • For the eighth straight game to open the season, Kiki Smith scored at least 10 points.
  • Florida’s 61 rebounds were a season best.
  • Florida has scored 40 or more points in the paint in four straight games after not doing so in its first four.
  • The Gators dished out 15 or more assists for the fourth time this season and third time in their last four games.
  • Danielle Rainey scored 12 points in 11 minutes of action in the first half and finished the contest with 14. She has now scored 10 or more points 10 times in her career.

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