Sunday wasn’t supposed to be easy for freshman guard Delicia Washington.
The Glen St. Mary, Florida, native’s left eye was completely swollen shut and covered with tape after she took an elbow to the face from a male practice player 24 hours prior.
However, when the visually impaired Washington stepped onto the floor at Coleman Coliseum to take on Alabama, she played one of the best games of her young career.
Led by a strong and feverish third-quarter surge from UF’s injured freshman, the Gators defeated the Crimson Tide 66-56 in Tuscaloosa to win consecutive games for the first time in more than a month.
Washington knocked down key buckets when Florida needed them most, tallying 12 points and 11 rebounds to record the first double-double of her college career.
Forward Ronni Williams continued her superb senior campaign as well, leading all scorers with 19 points and 11 rebounds, while junior forward Haley Lorenzen notched 18 points on an efficient 8-of-12 shooting from the field.
For Alabama, junior forward Quanetria Bolton finished with 14 points, five rebounds and two blocks, and guards Meoshonti Knight and Jordan Lewis also scored in double figures.
The difference-maker in the contest for both teams was rebounding. The Gators outrebounded the Crimson Tide 50-30 and transformed 16 offensive boards into 20 second-chance points, leading coach Amanda Butler to praise her team for its effort on the glass following the win.
“I thought we had a tremendous rebounding effort,” she said in a release. “There were a lot of things that were not easy for us tonight… But ultimately, rebounding was the separating factor.”
Florida (13-12, 4-8 SEC) got off to a slow start offensively, shooting a meager 34.3 percent in the first half.
After an evenly played opening quarter, baskets from Knight, sophomore forward Shaquera Wade and junior guard Hannah Cook propelled Alabama (15-10, 3-9 SEC) on a 9-0 run to give the Crimson Tide a 21-14 lead halfway through the second quarter.
The Gators responded with a run of their own, reducing the deficit to one point near the end of the frame to salvage an otherwise poor first 20 minutes.
“We didn’t score as many points in the first half as we normally do,” Butler said. “I thought we settled a little bit too much for jump shots.”
However, things changed quickly for UF to start the third quarter.
Seven consecutive jumpers from Williams, Lorenzen and freshman guard Sydney Morang combined to lead Florida on a blistering 18-0 run out of the intermission, putting its lead at 44-31 with under 15 minutes left in the contest.
And after another strong stretch from the Crimson Tide whittled the Gators' advantage to three, the one-eyed Washington put things away for her team.
The freshman nailed three straight shots — including two from behind the three-point arc — to score UF’s final eight points of the third quarter and shift the momentum back to the visitor’s sideline.
Washington’s big buckets silenced Alabama’s crowd in the final period, allowing the Gators to hang onto their lead and finish the game up by 10.
“Really at halftime we just talked about our desire level and what our heart and passion needed to look like,” Butler said on her team’s explosive second half. “All the credit goes to (the players).”
UF guard Delicia Washington looks to pass during Florida's 84-75 loss to Ole Miss on Feb. 6, 2017, in the O'Connell Center.