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UF Women’s Basketball: UF Hangs Tough with No. 14 Bulldogs, But Falls 68-56 Thursday

Lavender Briggs led the way in scoring for the eighth time this season.

Courtesy of University Athletic Association

BY SAM STOLTE

Sophomore standout Lavender Briggs scores 22 points as Gators come up just short against another nationally-ranked foe

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Taking on its third-straight top 15 opponent, the University of Florida women’s basketball team fell in a close one to visiting No. 14 Mississippi State, 68-56, Thursday evening at Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
 
Florida hung tough with the SEC stalwart and trailed by just seven with under four minutes to play in the final quarter but could not complete the rally and break through against the Bulldogs, who improved to 7-2 and 2-1 in conference play.
 
Scoring 20 or more points for the sixth time through 11 contests this season, sophomore standout Lavender Briggs paced the Gators with 22 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter. Thanks to the great efforts of Briggs and double-figure nights for Kiki Smith and Faith Dut, Florida remained within striking distance all game long.

Following some offensive struggles in the early going, Florida continued to battle and played to an even 16-16 score with the Bulldogs in the final stanza.
 
After 17 points in the second half on Sunday against No. 9 Texas A&M, Briggs put together another masterful final 20 minutes against the Bulldogs, adding 16 more.
 
MSU’s dynamic duo of All-Conference caliber talents, Rickea Jackson and Jessika Carter, combined to score 41 points.
 
Florida’s defense conceded just 68 points, limiting the high-powered Bulldog offense to a figure 15 points below its average coming in. Florida’s perimeter defense, one of the best, statistically speaking, in the nation, held its opponent to five or fewer three-pointers for the 10th time this season.
 
Both Smith and Dut finished with 10 points, while sophomore guard Nina Rickards again paced the Gators in rebounding with nine.
 
The Gators, in search of their first win over a top-15 team at home since Feb. 4, 2016 against No. 12 Texas A&M, gave the Bulldogs some serious fits in what was the closest result in the series since 2016.
 
In the opening possessions, Florida got off to a strong start and led 7-2 out of the gate but endured a three-minute scoreless drought that allowed the Bulldogs to pull ahead. The teams were knotted at 9-9, but MSU employed a 10-0 run to create some separation. A fast-paced opening quarter resulted with the Bulldogs leading 21-13. It was clear from the onset that Briggs would be Florida’s primary offensive catalyst, as the super sophomore tallied six points in the first 10 minutes.

After some back-and-forth play, Florida clawed with seven points on two occasions in the second, but MSU held an eleven-point lead at 38-27 at the break. Kristina Moore, Dut, and Rickards all tallied four points each. Both Bulldog stars, Carter and Jackson, were in double figures by the intermission after Carter registered 11 in the second period alone.

Florida made just four of its just first 15 shots but found more success shooting in the second, making six of its 17 attempts in the stanza. Mississippi State scored 11 points of Florida’s eight turnovers in the first half and outscored its bench 9-0.

The Bulldogs blitzed the Gators to start the second half, making five of their first six shots. MSU built a 15-point lead, its largest of the game at 46-31, midway through the third. Florida continued to fight, though, and trailed by just 12 at 52-40 heading into the final period. Going up against the 6-foot-5 Carter, Dut played tremendously in the third, tallying six points in the segment.

Out of the fourth-quarter gate, Florida scored the first three points to quickly trim the MSU lead back to single digits at 52-43. On three separate occasions, the Gators fought their way back to within seven points, but that was as close as they would come.

Briggs scored Florida’s first five points in the fourth and seven of its first nine. The Utah native scored on a runner with 3:23 remaining to make it 58-51, but on the ensuing possession Jackson connected on what would be a dagger three-pointer to put MSU back up 10.
 
NEXT UP: Florida continues league play Sunday, Jan. 10, when it travels to Georgia to battle the Bulldogs in Athens. Tipoff is set for Noon ET and will be televised nationally on the SEC Network.

QUOTABLES

Head Coach Cam Newbauer

On how the Gators showed fight tonight…
“We’re fighting. We’re competing. It’s just not as focused and as aggressive as we need to be at times. But in terms of just the fight, the fight is there. We just need to create more breaks to go our way, but we create those breaks. We just got to be a little more locked in and focused and execute a little better on some possessions.”
 
On Faith Dut’s performance…
“Faith was ultra-aggressive tonight. She’s still coming into her own. Figuring out moments where she can shoot the 3. She hit two the other day. Hit some a lot in practice. That’s something she’s really worked on so I am confident she can hit those shots. We had really good moments today, but not enough. Not enough moments as a whole.”

Sophomore Faith Dut

On the fight of the team and their effort…
“I think, for a long time, our word has been ‘fight.’ I think every game we are getting better at that. Just trying to tighten up on some things. Obviously, all teams have their challenges and things like that. And I think I’m just really proud of us for pushing through and being resilient through it all. We gotta fight every single game.”

On finding her groove in her second year…
“Honestly, I’ve just been coming in the gym with my teammates, working every day. They’ve been pushing me to be my best every single day at practice. I’ve been proud of myself for putting in the work that I need to, to compete with them and be my best for the team.”
 
On the strong defensive effort…
“We just, I mean, we need to stop, score, stop, score, every single game. Every single game is going to be a dog fight and we’re more than up for the challenge. I think every single time we needed a stop, we got it. Fall short sometimes, but that’s just the game.”

NOTABLES

  • Florida battled its third-straight top-15 opponent.
  • Florida held Mississippi State to its second-fewest points scored this season and 15 below its average.
  • Lavender Briggs finished with 20 or more points for the sixth time this season and finished in double figures for the 10th time in 11 games played.
  • Thursday’s matchup featured two of the top sophomores in the SEC with Lavender Briggs (17.5 points per game) and Rickea Jackson of Mississippi State (17.4 points per game). The student-athletes ranked No. 8 and No. 9, respectively, in scoring among league players.
  • The Gators now hit the road for back-to-back road games, at Georgia on Sunday, Jan. 10, and at Arkansas Thursday, Jan. 14.
  • Nina Rickards has 59 rebounds over her last five games from the guard position.

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