The University of Florida women’s basketball team (6-1) won its fifth-straight game as it downed visiting Tarleton State, 84-52 Monday afternoon inside Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
With the win, the Gators move to 6-1 for the first time since the 2016-17 season, and they are off to their best start under fourth-year head coach Cam Newbauer.
Paced by sophomore guard Lavender Briggs’ 20 points, the Gators took it to the visiting Texans, shooting a crisp 48.6 percent from the floor. UF, scoring over 80 points for the fourth time this season, also received significant contributions from senior Kiki Smith, who tallied 13 points, five rebounds, and five assists, and Nina Rickards, who established a new career high with 17 rebounds along with nine points.
Rickards’ 17 rebounds were the most collected in a game for a Florida player since Zada Williams corralled 19 against FAMU last season.
Nine different players scored six or more points, and the Gators recorded a season-best 53 rebounds. After registering a season-best 44 points in the paint last game at UNC Asheville, the Gators were at it again Monday, tallying 42 to go with 21 second chance points.
Extending their record to 5-0 at home for the first time since the beginning of the 2015-16 campaign, UF was dominant in the win, leading for over 39 minutes and by as many as 37.
Yasmeen Chang added six points, five assists, and two steals off the Florida bench, and also providing a spark to the Gators’ reserve unit was Floor Toonders, who notched a new career best with eight points
Florida opened the game with a 15-0 scoring run, matching its largest run of the season. The host Gators made five of their seven tries while limiting the Texans to an 0-6 start. At the end of the opening frame, Florida possessed a 21-6 lead as it limited its opponent to single-digit points in the first quarter for the second straight game. Briggs led all scorers with 10 points in the opening 10 minutes of play. Florida held Tarleton State scoreless until the 4:30 mark in the quarter.
After a slow start, the Texans scored the second quarter’s first four points to test the Gators early. But UF led 27-15 at the stanza’s media timeout. Florida outscored TTU 18-15 in the period as Kristina Moore, who scored six straight points during a stretch when the Gators began to pull away, paced its scoring effort.
Florida led 39-21 at the intermission after shooting 51 percent and limiting the Texans to a mere 28 percent mark. UF made just one 3-pointer but made its impact from the painted area, outscoring the Texans 24-4. Briggs checked in with 10 points at the break while Smith had eight.
The Gators’ offense ignited in the third period, as they scored 13 points in just the first three minutes and finished with 29 in the frame, a new high in a quarter this season. After enduring some struggles shooting from three-point range in the opening 20 minutes, Florida’s accuracy was on point in the third as it made four of its six attempts from deep. The three-point shoot surge, paired with a versatile offensive attack, allowed the Gators to put some insurmountable distance between themselves and the Texans. Eight different players scored in the stanza, led by freshman Jordyn Merritt, who added six in just seven minutes played.
In the fourth, Florida scored just 16 points, its lowest in the game, but it put the finishing touches necessary to obtain its fifth-straight win. Briggs nailed down the victory with six points in the fourth.
Making 10 of her 17 shots, Briggs scored 20 or more points for the fourth time already this year.
Moore finished with eight points and five rebounds.
Smith, whose three steals helped Florida stymie the Tarleton State offense, scored in double figures for the seventh time in as many games to open the season.
Marissa Escamilla scored 13 points to lead Tarleton State.
The Gators return to the hardwood Monday, Dec. 21, when they host in-state foe North Florida. Tipoff is slated for 2 p.m. ET.
Florida is 6-1 for the first time since the 2016-17 season and is off to its best start under fourth-year head coach Cam Newbauer.
The Gators are 5-0 at home for the first time since the beginning of the 2015-16 campaign.
Florida allowed just six points in the opening quarter, its fewest allowed in a period all season, and conceded just two field goals.
The Gators limited their opponent to single-digit points in the opening quarter for the second-straight game.
Nina Rickards’ 17 rebounds were the most collected in a game for a Florida player since Zada Williams corralled 19 in a game against FAMU last season. 11 of them came on the offensive end.
Kiki Smith scored in double figures for the seventh time in seven games to open the season.
UF scored 29 points in the third quarter, its most in any period this season.
The Gators scored over 80 points a game for the fourth time this season.
The Gators featured the same lineup for the sixth time out of their seven games.
Floor Toonders set a new career best with eight points, surpassing her previous high of seven, which she set the game prior at UNC Asheville.
Overall thoughts on the game… “First and foremost, I encourage everyone to keep thinking of Keyontae Johnson and his family. Keep him in your thoughts and prayers, such a great young man and an amazing family, as he continues to recover. Just one of these tough games, coming and playing after his accident the other day was going to be tough emotionally for our team. We’re close with him, and he is a guy that brings so many of the men’s players to our games. So, just wishing him a speedy recovery and thinking of him always. And you know, for our players just to battle through finals week and the COVID mental adversity, and then the recent happenings with Key. We didn’t have the best energy we wanted all game long, and we knew we had to try to create some energy to get it going, be where we wanted to be. Had some spurts, had some really good moments, and we just know we got to keep growing and keep improving. And I think we did that today in a number of areas.”
On Nina Rickards 17 rebounds… “We were trying to be at least +20 on the glass, and we know we had a size advantage and we wanted to be aggressive. And that’s an area we got to get better is rebounding and for her to have 11 offensive rebounds, to really get in there, that’s crazy. And to finish with 17, that’s Nina (Rickards). She’ll do whatever is asked of her and go find that ball if it presents itself and she did that today. Just had a number of players step up and make some big baskets for us. Yas Chang has 5 assists, 6 points there. Shared the ball well and spread it around, and just everybody got some quality minutes today so it was good.”
On how it feels to get another hard-fought win… “You want to keep winning, you want to keep competing. To win was great, you know just another different style, they like to switch everything and play all man to man. So, another good challenge for us and just trying to find ways to keep getting better. I think we had individual moments where that happened. And then, we’ll have some good stuff to take from this to go clip up in preparation for not just the next game, but also for conference play. So, you love to win. You got to keep winning. 6-1 with such a strange year with no fans and just all the different adversity these young people are going through. Their normal coping mechanisms are not available, and they are in the same rooms at the same time with the same people. It just becomes, kind of, repetitive. So, for young people that are relationships folks that want to be around others and do normal social gatherings, it’s been tough. I’m just proud of our players and their resolve and pushing through. Just mentally, I know we’re drained from finals and going through all this. But, it’s something we have to keep battling through and put our best foot forward, and I think we’re doing that.”