Ronni Williams and Delicia Washington trotted toward halfcourt before meeting each other with a chest bump as the final buzzer sounded at the O’Connell Center.
For the first time in a while, the two players could actually put smiles on their faces.
For the first time this season, Florida had finally won a home game against an SEC opponent.
Playing in front of a crowd of 1,441, the Gators defeated Arkansas 57-53 on Thursday night for their first conference victory in Gainesville in more than 11 months.
Senior forward Ronni Williams led UF with 15 points and 12 rebounds for her seventh double-double this season. Freshman guard Sydney Morang also knocked down four three-point baskets to tie a career-high 12 points, and junior guard Dyandria Anderson was the late-game hero with key free throws, a rebound and a steal in the contest’s final minute to seal the win for Florida.
“There’s not any reason to act cool about it,” coach Amanda Butler said. “This felt really good to finally, in front of our fans, play well enough to win against a very good team in a very important matchup.”
The game tipped off with brutal offensive starts from both squads.
The Gators and Razorbacks missed 18 of their first 21 shots combined, scoring a meager six points in the opening 6:42 of the game.
Florida finished the first quarter strong, however, after Morang nailed two three-point jumpers to take a 16-5 lead at the end of the period.
UF (12-12, 3-8 SEC) continued its strong push into the following frame, holding off Arkansas by at least six points until the final minute of the half when momentum shifted back in the Razorbacks' favor.
Three consecutive steals from sophomore guard Malica Monk in the last 1:05 propelled Arkansas to a 6-0 run to head into the intermission down by only two points.
The Razorbacks (13-11, 2-9 SEC) continued that offensive push into the third quarter, generating another 12-0 run behind baskets from senior forward Jessica Jackson, sophomore guard Keiryn Swanson and freshman guard Jailyn Mason to take a five-point lead.
From there, the two teams battled in an evenly matched second half until Anderson came up big in the game’s final moments.
With the Gators leading 54-53 in the final 10 seconds, Anderson rose up and pulled down a key defensive rebound after a missed jumper from Jackson.
The Viera, Florida, native was then sent to the charity stripe, sinking both shots to increase her team’s lead to three with seven ticks remaining.
In Arkansas’ final opportunity to tie the game, Anderson once again came up huge, forcing a turnover and swishing another free throw to clinch the victory.
“It was a big-time shot,” Anderson said. “I’m happy I made it, and coach put me in those positions to make those free throws at that time.”
Thursday’s game against the Razorbacks ends a 348-day drought for Florida at home against conference opponents. UF’s previous SEC home victory came on Feb. 28, 2016 in a 56-49 win over Auburn.
“As a team, we feel great, man,” Williams said. “We get to go home and relax. We got the win tonight. Now, we’re going to get ready for our next opponent.”
UF guard Dyandria Anderson passes the ball to teammate Delicia Washington during Florida's 57-53 win over Arkansas on Feb. 9, 2017, in the O'Connell Center.