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Friday, January 27, 2023

Entering the Southeastern Conference tournament, forward Ashlee Elliott said the Gators were seeking to avenge their loss to Kentucky in last year's tournament title game.

UF (14-4-2, 10-4 SEC) got its payback Wednesday. On a cold night in Orange Beach, Ala., the Gators put the heat on the Wildcats (10-7-3, 4-7-1 SEC) sending them back to Lexington with a 4-0 loss and only faint hopes of an NCAA Tournament berth.

The Gators will now advance to face LSU on Friday night at 8:30.

UF buried Kentucky early, netting three of four goals in the opening half.

Forward Stacy Bishop scored the match's first goal in the eighth minute off a Karly Findorff assist.

"It was really important," said Coach Becky Burleigh of scoring the first goal. "Every other game we've played against Kentucky has been a struggle, so for us to go in there and get an early goal set a great tone

"Kentucky generally has a very strong defense, and for us to come in and play that well is great."

The Gators defense held strong, recording its 13th shutout of the season and ninth in 10 matches. UF outshot the Wildcats 11-0 in the half and kept them from establishing a rhythm on offense. The defensive dominance continued, as the Wildcats were limited to just one shot in the second half.

"I thought our team did a good job of playing with confidence," Burleigh said. "We played strong,aggressive defense, and we were able to keep them from getting the ball in position to score the ball.

KeLeigh Hudson scored the second goal in the 26th minute on a shot assisted by Shana Hudson, and Bishop rounded out the first-half scoring, connecting on her ninth goal of the season in the 37th minute from an assist by Elliott.

Forward Bianca Gibbs added the final score in the 90th minute for good measure. Despite dominating Kentucky, Burleigh downplayed revenge as a factor in the win.

"I think our players are bigger than that," she said. "Our goal is winning games, and for us it's all about continuing our momentum entering the NCAA Tournament."

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GATORS HONORED: Two months ago, it seemed unlikely the Gators would be heavily represented on the All-SEC teams.

But with UF now riding high on a ten-game winning streak, UF led the SEC with five all-conference players.

Defender Lauren Hyde, Bishop and Elliott were named to the All-SEC First Team. Midfielders Ameera Abdullah and Hudson were named to the second squad.

Findorff was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team.

A noteworthy omission from the All-Conference teams was forward Ashley Harris. The senior was tied with Bishop and Hudson for a UF-best seven goals at the end of the regular season.

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