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UF Women’s Basketball: Gators Tame Tigers, Secure First SEC Win

Senior Kiki Smith was instrumental in UF’s first conference win as the senior guard added 22 points and 13 rebounds.

Courtesy of University Athletic Association

BY SAM STOLTE

Women’s basketball posts 68-54 victory over Auburn Sunday

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Breaking through for its first conference victory, the University of Florida women’s basketball team fought hard for a 68-54 victory over Auburn Sunday afternoon inside Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Florida’s dynamic duo of Lavender Briggs and Kiki Smith delivered yet again as they combined to score 40 points in the win.

Collecting her third double-double of the season, the do-it-all point guard Smith registered 22 points, 13 rebounds, five steals, and four assists for the contest. The senior established a new career high with her 13 boards.

After her record-setting performance at Arkansas on Thursday, Briggs followed up with 18 points and three assists against the Tigers as she scored 15 or more points for the 11th straight time.

Holding its opponent below its season scoring average for the fourth straight game, Florida limited Auburn to just 27.9 percent shooting from the floor, the lowest field goal percentage it has allowed to an opponent all season.

Florida blitzed Auburn out of the gates, outscoring it 21-8 in the first quarter, and never looked back as it held off a series of runs from the Tigers.

With both teams in search of their elusive first conference win, the Gators held the upper hand as they never trailed in the game and led by as many as 18. Returning home after a pair of road matchups, UF shot 42.4 percent from the floor and connected on seven three-pointers back in the friendly confines of the O’Dome.

Snapping a five-game skid, Florida also received a strong performance from 6-foot-4 forward Faith Dut, who chipped in eight points on 4-of-5 shooting. Nina Rickards added six points of her own, coming off a pair of timely three-pointers in the second half. The guard also collected seven rebounds.

Florida led 21-8 after the first quarter, with the senior Smith leading the way with eight points. UF shot an even 50 percent from the floor while holding Auburn to 2-of-15 shooting. The Gators came out with a heightened sense of focus and aggression as they unleashed an 11-0 run to open the game. On the defensive end, the Gators held the Tigers without a point for the opening 4:27. Smith had seven of UF’s first 16 points as she helped the Gators pounce on the Tigers from the onset. Florida’s eight points allowed were its second-fewest points allowed in a period all year.

Auburn scored the first four points of the second quarter, though, prompting a timeout from the Gators.

An Auburn three-pointer pushed its run to 7-0 to open quarter two. Briggs stopped the sudden spurt when she was fouled on a three-point attempt and made two of her three tries to settle things for the Gators. Danielle Rainey drained a triple on UF’s next possession, taking its lead back to nine and giving it some breathing room.

Florida used a 9-0 run during a span in which Auburn missed 11 straight shots to build a 35-19 lead with under two minutes to play in the second.

Florida carried a 35-21 lead into the half after holding Auburn to under 40 percent shooting in the first 20 minutes. Florida’s top two were excellent in the first half, as Smith and Briggs combined to score 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting from the floor. Auburn made just seven of its 34 attempts.

After Florida built its largest lead, at 41-23 with 5:39 to play in the third, Auburn unleashed an 8-0 run over a two-minute span to creep back within 10. After enduring some considerable offensive struggles, Auburn closed the gap and trailed by just nine with 3:45 to go in the stanza. The Gators responded by building their lead back to 15 after a running shot from Jordyn Merritt, but a three-pointer at the horn from Auburn’s Honesty Scott-Grayson made it 50-38 heading into the third.

Following a pair of free throws from Florida’s Kristina Moore, the Tigers’ offense ignited for seven straight points in just a 45-second window to make it 56-49 midway through the fourth. This surge caused the Gators to take a time out.

On a designed play out of the stoppage, Rickards drilled her second 3-pointer of the half to make it a 10-point game. The feisty Tigers would continue to fight and trimmed Florida’s lead back to single digits a few times more, but it would not break. After a lay-in from Dut with 2:44 to play put the Gators back up by 10, from this point forward it would not relinquish its double-figure advantage. After Auburn outscored Florida 17-15 in the third, it closed out the game, outscoring them 18-16 in the final frame.

Merritt finished with a career-best eight rebounds in 22 minutes off the UF bench.
 
Auburn, which saw its last two games postponed due to the impact of COVID-19, was led by All-SEC forward Unique Thompson who tallied 14 points and 14 rebounds.

NEXT UP: Florida continues SEC play Thursday when it travels to Vanderbilt for a 1 p.m. clash with the Commodores in the Music City. Tipoff is slated for 1 p.m. ET on the SEC Network. The SEC announced Friday that UF’s contest at Vanderbilt, originally slated for Dec. 31, has been rescheduled for Jan. 21 in the Music City. The league announced a revised three-game slate to be played on Jan. 21 as a result of game postponements during the 2021 season due to the impact of COVID-19.

QUOTABLES

Head Coach Cam Newbauer

On winning the first conference game of season…
“It was our best day because it was our first conference win. We got the stops when we had to have them. To hold them to 28% [FG%] and 17% [3 PT%] is phenomenal. Overall, it’s a win. It’s been a long time coming for us.”
 
On Kiara Smith’s performance…
“Kiki Smith continues to be Kiki Smith. Such high motor and high energy and just impact the game in so many ways. Had a number of steals that really sparked our offense.”
 
On the team’s strong defensive performance…
“We came out very aggressively from a defensive standpoint. That was our main focus today. That sparked most of our offense today. We needed that today.”
 
Senior Kiki Smith

On using her experience to her advantage…
“Yes, I feel very confident. As a team, it is easy to actually make the adjustments that I need to make. It’s easy to talk, so it’s easy to say something and get on the same page. So, it makes it a lot easier and we have each other’s backs.”

NOTABLES

  • Kiki Smith notched her third double-double of the season and fourth in her career.
  • Sunday marked the third time this season she has had 20 or more points and 10 or more rebounds in a game.
  • Smith hauled in a career-high 13 rebounds.
  • With 14 first-half points today, Smith has scored 31 points over her last two first halves.
  • Lavender Briggs scored 15 or more points for the 11th straight game.
  • Briggs has scored at least 16 points in all six of UF’s SEC contests.
  • Florida defeated Auburn for the second time in a row, but Auburn holds a 23-37 edge in the all-time series.
  • Jordyn Merritt added a career-high eight rebounds.
  • Smith’s five steals mark the fourth time this season she has had four or more thefts in a game.
  • The Gators made 11 of their 14 shots from the charity stripe.
  • Auburn entered the game averaging 15.0 rebounds per game, the third-best mark in the SEC, but Florida limited it to just six.
  • For the first time in conference play, Florida battled a team that was neither ranked nor receiving votes.
  • Florida’s 54 points allowed were its fewest since limiting Tarleton State to just 52.
  • Florida conceded its second-fewest first-half points (22), trailing just the 21 it allowed against Tarleton State.
  • UF’s 21 first-quarter points were its most since scoring 31 on North Florida.
  • With the rescheduling of the Vanderbilt game, Florida will now play consecutive road games at Vanderbilt on Jan. 21 and at Ole Miss on Jan. 24 next week.
  • Sunday marked UF’s sixth nationally-televised contest and third straight game on SEC Network.