With 49 seconds left, Carlie Needles set her feet and hit a three-pointer to bring Florida within four points.
But despite Needles’ season-best 17 points, the Gators were unable overcome a 19-point deficit and rally in the O’Connell Center on Sunday.
Behind a valiant comeback effort, the Gators (12-2, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) fell to No. 8 Mississippi State (14-1, 1-0 SEC) and lost 70-76.
Mississippi State, which had the game in control from the opening tip until midway through the fourth quarter, was on the ropes towards the end of the game.
There just wasn’t enough time for the Gators.
“I am really proud of the way my team fought, especially in that fourth quarter,” UF coach Amanda Butler said in a release.
“Our effort was tremendous, but effort is not enough to win games in the SEC.”
Seven different players scored for UF during the fourth quarter comeback, including starters Eleanna Christinaki and Haley Lorenzen as well as bench players Tyshara Fleming and Carla Batchelor.
Needles, whose offensive production has been modest so far this year, put up a team-leading 17 points, with nine coming from behind the arc.
The redshirt senior guard hinted at the need for Florida to play more consistent basketball rather than rallying late against quality opponents.
“I was really proud of our fight and the way we came out in the fourth quarter,” Needles said in a release.
“We believed that we could (win) and we played that way. We need to play that way the whole time.”
Junior forward Ronni Williams also registered another solid performance, notching 11 points and 12 rebounds en route to her fifth double-double of the season despite committing three first-quarter fouls.
“We don’t play with any fear of fouls,” Butler said. “In terms of impacting our game plan or altering our expectation, we would love to have Ronni on the floor the whole time. But our team just thinks about whose turn it is next.”
That depth will be key moving forward, as Florida will need contributions from nearly everyone on the team to cope with a brutal early SEC schedule. Up next is No. 13 Tennessee on Thursday night in Knoxville.
Despite the loss, Needles said that this game can serve as a valuable learning experience and as motivation moving forward in SEC play.
“We know that the SEC is the hardest conference in the country and we love that,” she said.
“We want to play against great competition. You can’t be the best team without playing the best teams. So, it is just making sure that we are remaining positive and working really hard in practice because that is where it starts.”
Follow Ethan Bauer on Twitter @ebaueri