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UF Women’s Basketball: No. 17 Georgia’s High-Scoring Second Half Spoils Gators’ Upset Bid on Senior Day

Freshman Floor Toonders was one of two rookies to come through with career-best performances on Sunday.

Courtesy of University Athletic Association

BY SAM STOLTE

Women’s basketball hangs tough with No. 17 Georgia but drops 95-80 final

Despite a balanced scoring effort and career days from freshmen Floor Toonders and Jordyn Merritt, the University of Florida women’s basketball team fell short against No. 17 Georgia, 95-80, Sunday afternoon at what was Senior Day at Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
 
On a day in which Florida’s top scorer Kiki Smith was honored, it was a collection of supporting role players that came up with strong performances. The freshman forward Floor Toonders supplied a career-best 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the floor, while fellow rookie Jordyn Merritt eclipsed her previous career-best mark with 16 points of her own in 38 minutes.
 
In a game that featured seven ties and 12 lead changes, Florida pushed the No. 17 Lady Bulldogs and even led by as many as seven in the second quarter. After trailing by just two at the half, Florida wasn’t able to keep pace with the Lady Bulldogs, who outscored it by 17 in the final 20 minutes.
 
Scoring their most points against Georgia since 2004, Florida did what it needed to do offensively but couldn’t slow down the Lady Bulldogs, who scored 90 or more points for the third time this season.
 
With its loss to the Lady Bulldogs and a victory by Ole Miss Sunday over Kentucky, the Gators have been assigned the No. 12 seed and are set to take on No. 13 Auburn Wednesday, March 3 at the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament in Greenville, SC. Tipoff is slated for 4 p.m. ET from Bon Secours Wellness Arena. 
 
Smith finished the game with 16 points, five rebounds, and three assists, and Nina Rickards chipped in 14 points, including 10 in the first half.
 
Playing without All-SEC standout Lavender Briggs for the fourth straight game, the Gators needed contributions from up and down the lineup, and they received them, as every player to appear in the game scored, and they had four players score 14 or more points.  
 
A three-pointer off the finger tips of the senior Smith drew the Gators to within three at 69-66 with 9:12 remaining in the fourth, but UGA employed a 7-2 run to add some distance between the teams. A lay-up from Toonders brought the Gators back to within two possessions with 6:43 to play, but UGA used a 15-4 run to thwart Florida’s upset bid.
 
Georgia, which made 22 of its 31 shots in the second half (71 percent), was led in scoring by senior forward Jenna Staiti, who tallied a career-best 30 points to go with 13 rebounds.
 
Smith, who entered the game averaging 28 points per game over her last three, was held in check with just 16 as she added a double-digit point total for the 21st time in 22 games.
 
UF dropped its eighth straight against the Lady Bulldogs as the teams squared off for the 78th time.
 
Florida made 6 of its first 11 shots and led 13-10 at the first quarter media timeout. Rickards came out aggressive and had six points in the first five minutes. The Gators made four straight shots at a point early, but UGA hit its stride towards the end of the quarter, and Florida faced a 24-22 deficit at the end of the first. Rickards had eight points to lead the Gators, while Staiti tallied 10. Florida made 10-of-17 shots and scored its most first-quarter points since registering 29 against UNF on Dec. 21.  
 
After a hot-shooting first quarter, Florida’s offense stalled a bit to open the second frame as it scored just two points in the first 4:30. The Gators found their footing, though, and scored on consecutive trips to knot the score at 28-28 at the under-five-minute media timeout. The Gators built a 37-30 lead late in the second, but after a 9-1 run, Georgia led 39-38 with 48 seconds remaining after a lay-up by Que Morrison. Senior Danielle Rainey provided a great Senior Day memory when she drilled a three-pointer as the buzzer sounded, and the Gators possessed a 41-39 edge at the break. Both teams shot over 40 percent in the opening 20 minutes, with Gators making 16 of their 31 attempts.
 
The Lady Bulldogs connected on three straight field goals to take a 47-44 lead early in the third period, and at the under-five media timeout, Georgia held a narrow edge at 51-50. Following a stretch of four straight makes, UGA led 59-53. The Lady Bulldogs’ streaking shooting display extended to seven straight field goals, and they pushed their advantage to 65-57 late in the third. The Gators finished the third with some momentum at their backs as they rattled off a 6-0 run and trailed by a slim 67-63 margin through three.
 
In the fourth, Georgia made 12 of its 18 attempts, and Staiti was a perfect 4-of-4 from the floor as the Lady Bulldogs outscored the Gators 28-17. The Gators, who endured a four-minute stretch without a field goal, were within three possessions with under five minutes to play but couldn’t close in on hot-shooting UGA. Smith and Kristina Moore, who made all six of her tries from the charity stripe, tallied six points apiece in the final stanza.
 
QUOTABLES

Head Coach Cam Newbauer

Overall thoughts on the game…
“You know, we scored and we’ve been able to score in all these games, but our defense is what really struggled. And that’s what happened again today. I don’t think we’ve had two quarters in a row this year where we’ve given up 56 points, and that’s their offense. That’s a team that’s always been great defensively, but they have really found their rhythm offensively. They just have so many weapons on the floor that can score and attack and do such a good job getting out in transition. And then having such a good presence inside with Staiti, who can score inside and outside. Those two threes you saw in the fourth quarter. Just a team that really keeps you on your toes, and then how they play defensively with speeding you up and getting after you, it’s tough. You have to be locked in and focused. You know we had some really good moments, but overall it wasn’t enough. I thought we did fight and we competed really well. I thought we had some players get better today.”

On Jordyn Merritt‘s and Floor Toonders’ career nights…
“What was great with how they scored today was that they made reads. They were being basketball players. They just had a feel for when they could dive or make a cut. I saw the borderline three that Jordyn (Merritt) made in the first half. Just a really good feel for her. That’s the growth and maturity you’ve seen from her this year. Just a comfort level, just really proud of her. Floor (Toonders), who had 16 and 7, that’s really good. Jordyn, 16 and 6. They didn’t look like freshmen today, so really proud of them. Kiki (Smith) and Nina (Rickards), I thought, did a very good job today trying to shoulder the load. Ultimately, defensively we just weren’t good enough today, so hats off to Georgia. “
 
Freshman Jordyn Merritt


On her career high…
“I mean, my approach was kind of basic, just play with everybody. I was tired. I was very tired, but I pushed through with the help of my teammates. So, it just felt really good. One last time with the seniors on our home court, so it was just a great experience.”
 
On Floor Toonders‘ performance…
“She played amazing! That was so good, I’m so proud of her because we work in practice every day on something different. You know, she’s done amazing. Just to see those things in motion against bigger opponents, it’s amazing to see these pieces coming together. I’m so proud of her.”
 
On the emotions of senior day…
“It was very emotional. You know, we had some tears on the side, but it’s all love. So, I’m really just glad I was able to know them this year, the success we had and the success we’re building.”
 
NOTABLES

  • Graduate transfers Cydnee Kinslow and Emily Sullivan and seniors Kiki Smith and Danielle Rainey were honored in a pre-game Senior Day ceremony.
  • Floor Toonders and Jordyn Merritt set new career highs with 16 points each.
  • With 80 points Sunday, Florida scored its most points against UGA since tallying 83 in a win over the Lady Bulldogs on Feb. 26, 2004.
  • Florida finished its regular season at home for the first time since Feb. 26, 2017 when it defeated Georgia, 65-58.
  • UF featured its eighth different lineup combination. Smith is the lone Gator to have started all 22 games.
  • UF has scored 80 or more points in three of its last four games.
  • Sunday marked the Gators’ 12th nationally-televised game and first appearance on ESPN2 since Dec. 2017 at Auburn. UF’s 12 games on national television are its most since the 2014-15 season.
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