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UF Women’s Basketball: Smith Goes for 34 But Florida Falls on the Road to Hot-Shooting Mizzou

Kristina Moore tallied 10 points for the Gators, her 10th double-figure scoring game of the season.

Courtesy of University Athletic Association

BY SAM STOLTE

Women’s basketball fights back but drops 96-80 decision to Missouri Sunday

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Facing its final road test of the 2020-21 regular season, the University of Florida women’s basketball team fell to Missouri, 96-80, Sunday afternoon at Mizzou Arena.
 
Scoring in double figures for the 20th time through 21 games, senior guard Kiki Smith was terrific again for Florida, tallying a career-high 34 points. Scoring 20 or more for the seventh time in her last nine games, Smith led the charge for the short-handed Gators, who were without All-SEC talent Lavender Briggs for the third straight game. Smith’s 34 points are the third-most scored by an SEC player this season. She also added 11 boards and four assists, collecting her fifth double-double in the past eight games and ninth of her career.
 
The Gators battled but could not slow down the Tigers, who connected for a program-record 18 three-pointers. The Gators, who entered the game leading the SEC in three-point field goal percentage allowed, saw the Tigers make 10 of their first 15 tries, and they just would not let up, making eight more in the second half.
 
The Gators shrunk what was a 23-point lead down to 10 with less than 3:32 to play after a pair of momentous three-pointers by senior spark plug Danielle Rainey, but the Tigers answered back with a 10-0 surge to put the game out of reach.
 
Florida trailed by only five at the end of the first but was not able to keep pace with the hard-charging Tigers, who shot above 44 percent in all four quarters, including a blistering 64.7 percent mark in the third.
 
The Gators’ offensive attack provided plenty as they scored 80 or more points for the seventh time this season and featured a quartet of double-figure scorers, with Jordyn Merritt and Danielle Rainey adding 12 apiece while junior Kristina Moore supplied 10 points, all in the first half.
 
Florida struggled to keep track of the Tigers’ perimeter shooters as they shot 18-of-28 (64.3 percent) from distance. Three Missouri Tigers finished the game with 20 or more points, with Hayley Frank leading the way on a career-best 26 points. Aijha Blackwell tallied 21 points and a game-high 14 rebounds.
 
Smith knocked down 10-of-21 from the floor and tied her career-best with four three-pointers as she gave all she had. Coming off a 28-point performance last time out against Alabama, Smith was sensational yet again.
 
In a matchup that carried serious implications in terms of SEC Tournament seeding, Florida made 16 of its 18 free throws, out-rebounded Missouri 40-35, and made a season-high 12 three-pointers.
 
Just 24 days ago, the Tigers beat the Gators by a tally of 61-58 in what was a defensive struggle, Sunday’s matchup was a 180-degree difference from that as the teams met in an offensive showcase.
 
Mizzou hit three of its first four three-pointers and led 9-3 early. The teams combined to hit five of their first seven three-pointers as it was pretty clear from the beginning that Mizzou Arena would be a shooter’s gym.
 
The Tigers held an 11-6 edge at the first quarter media timeout after making four of their first eight shots. Moore was aggressive early on with seven of UF’s first 18 points.
 
Florida trailed 23-18 at the end of the first after both teams shot it well; Mizzou shot a blazing-hot 6-of-9 from three-point range. The Gators hung tough thanks to a focused effort from Moore, who led all scorers with 10 points. The Tigers, one of the nation’s best offenses, showed why, shooting 47 percent in the opening 10 minutes.
 
Senior Shannon Dufficy drilled a three-point basket to open the second quarter and push Mizzou’s lead to 26-18. The Utah State transfer made her first three 3-pointers. Mizzou built its first double-figure lead at 28-18 early in the second.
 
Mizzou, which entered the game averaging just a shade over six 3-pointers per game, exceeded its average in the first 15 minutes of play as it made eight of its first 13 triples. Missouri’s ninth 3-pointer of the half put it ahead 38-25, but a conventional three-point play from Smith gave the Gators some momentum at the second stanza’s media timeout.
 
The Tigers strung together a stretch of five makes on six possessions to extend their lead to 13 with under three minutes remaining in the first half. Following a slow start in the first quarter, Smith got things going with seven points in the second period. Florida’s offense stalled a bit in the second as the Tigers held a 22-12 edge on the scoreboard.
 
Florida went into the locker room trailing 45-30 after the hot-shooting Tigers made 51.5 percent of their shots in the opening 20 minutes, including a 10-of-15 shooting performance from distance. The Tigers tied their season-high for three-pointers made in a game in just the first 20 minutes of play, and Florida conceded a season-high in three-pointers. A trio of Tigers were in double figures by the half, with Shug Dickson, the Saint Louis native, pacing all scorers with 13.
 
The Tigers’ incredible shooting spilled over into the second half as they made their four three-pointers and possessed a 65-44 lead at the under five-minute media timeout. Despite 16 third-quarter points from Smith, UF faced a 77-55 deficit heading into the fourth.
 
Instead of backing down, Florida fought back in the final period by outscoring the Tigers, 25-19. Smith registered nine more points and the Gators poured in four treys, but the late comeback bid would not materialize.

NEXT UP: Florida plays its final regular season contest Sunday, Feb. 28 when it welcomes No. 22 Georgia to Gainesville for Senior Day at Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The Gators and Bulldogs are set for a 1 p.m. tipoff on SEC Network. Seniors Danielle Rainey and Kiki Smith and graduate students Emily Sullivan and Cydnee Kinslow will be honored during a pre-game ceremony.

QUOTABLES

Head Coach Cam Newbauer

On Missouri’s shooting performance…
“Well, very, very good shooting team. They started a different lineup and really opened up the floor. But either way, we missed too many assignments defensively. We wanted to give up twos for threes, and we didn’t do that in that first half. We kept talking about it in huddles and had people still running back to the paint and not getting up tight enough to cover that three-point line. They share the ball really, really well. Not only did they have 18 threes, they had 22 assists on 36 field goals. That’s fantastic. So, you know, defensively the last three games we’ve just given up way too many points and offensively we scored more than enough points to win in all three of those games. So, it’s our defense. You know, Lav (Briggs) does a lot defensively for us, but that doesn’t really matter because her and Manu (de Olivieria) aren’t here. So, we gotta play with the hand we’ve got right now and we just gotta be better defensively because it’s not good enough.”


On Kiki Smith’s career high and her ability down the stretch in games…
“You know, she can just score so many different ways with her quickness and her offensive prowess. And it’s tough when she has to carry all the load because defensively she does so much as well. We’ve got some other players that offensively have just not given us very much and we need more out of some other players right now. It just shows you what all Lav (Briggs) does for us and the shots that her being on the floor gets these other players. But now, you know, they’ve gotta step up and it’s not as consistent as it needs to be right now. And we’ve got some players that are in roles they want, but they have not adjusted to what those roles are with how aggressive they need to be and how tough they gotta play through the good and the bad.”
 
On Kiki’s outstanding season overall…
“Ultimate warrior. Ultimate coachable kid that you’d love to have one every year if you could and just love her heart and how bad she wants to win. You know, she’s not gonna be happy, she doesn’t care how many she scored today. She’s not gonna be happy. She just wants to win and do whatever it takes for us to win and that’s why we are just so grateful that she is here with us and trying to pull everybody along, bring them up, raise them up, elevate them, and keep fighting. And that’s what we are going to do.”

NOTABLES

  • Kiki Smith scored a career-best 34 points.
  • Smith made 10 of her 11 free throws and tied her career best with four triples.
  • Florida’s 80 points tied its season best for points scored on the road.
  • UF featured its seventh different lineup combination; Smith is the lone Gator to have started all 21 games.
  • Freshman Brynn Farrell made her first career start and set a new career high with eight points. She has six or more in five straight games.
  • Freshman Jordyn Merritt made her fourth straight start.
  • Faith Dut returned to the lineup after appearing off the bench in the previous four contests.
  • UF made a season-high 12 three-pointers.
  • The Gators have out-rebounded their opponent in six of their last eight games and hold an 8-4 record when winning the battle of the boards.
  • Missouri tied its program record with 18 made three-pointers; its season high was 10 entering the game. The Tigers made their 10th three-pointer of the game with less than three minutes remaining in the second quarter.

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