The Florida women’s basketball team welcomes Northeastern to the O’Connell Center on Wednesday at 7 p.m. for the first of a four-game homestand. The Huskies are the third-straight undefeated team UF will face.
The Gators (0-5) are still seeking their first win of the season after they lost to the Northwestern Wildcats in overtime on Nov. 18 and to Indiana three days later.
However, in the midst of all the poor play, the Gators’ two veteran guards have been the bright spot. Redshirt senior Funda Nakkasoglu (19.4) and junior Delicia Washington (19.2) have the two highest scoring averages in the SEC. The duo enters the midweek matchup with 25 combined three-pointers, and the 5-foot-10 Washington leads her team in rebounds this season with 39.
“Delicia (Washington) is an incredible rebounding guard,” coach Cam Newbauer said Tuesday. “That’s just her extreme desire to want to get the ball. You’ll see when you watch her play. She’ll just get some incredible rebounds every game.”
But what has been missing for Florida is clutch play down the stretch of games. In the loss against Northwestern, UF’s defense allowed the Wildcats to shoot 63 percent in the second half and 57.1 percent in overtime. As a result, the Gators were outscored 13-2 in the final 3:14 of regulation and 9-2 in the overtime sequence.
“We have got to get a lot better defensively,” Newbauer said. “We’re giving up way too many points. Way too many easy opportunities.”
The undersized team has also struggled with rebounds in the first five games, averaging an SEC-worst 30.6 boards per game. Florida will look to have more production from its bench and better rebounding from its frontcourt players like forwards Zada Williams and Kristina Moore, who have combined for 37 rebounds so far in 2018.
UF will meet a Northeastern team (5-0) that will make things difficult. The Huskies come into the game averaging 42.2 rebounds per game led by forward Ayanna Dublin, who averages over seven boards a contest. Florida will need to box her out while also keying in on guard Jess Genco, who has scored 16 points a game and is second on her team in total assists with 16.
Northeastern is also lethal from the charity stripe, something else that Florida has struggled with. The Huskies boast an 82.6 free throw percentage while Florida holds a measly 59.4 percent.
Free throw shooting was a big reason for the loss to Indiana. Florida shot just 4-of-12 from the line while the Hoosiers tallied 15-of-20. Indiana’s fast-paced offense forced UF to commit fouls often and dropped the Gators into foul trouble early. Washington missed most of the third quarter due to foul trouble.
“We have to keep our hands out of the cookie jar,” Newbauer said.
Northeastern runs a similar offense that is quick-paced and uses turnovers created by its gritty defense to score in transition. Florida will need to learn from its past mistakes before Wednesday’s bout in Gainesville.
“They play together,” Newbauer said of Northeastern. “Very feisty defensive team. You can tell they take a lot of pride in their defense. A very fun team to watch and definitely a big-time challenge for us (Wednesday) night.”
Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph or contact him at email@example.com.
Florida guard Delicia Washington leads the Gators with 39 rebounds on the season.