Guard Delicia Washington waited for her opportunity like a tiger on the hunt. A pass early in the third quarter that hung in the air just a little too long allowed the 5-foot-10 guard to step right in front and take it to the other end for an easy basket.
Texas Tech coach Marlene Stollings stomped her foot and berated the TTU bench as Washington ran, her face redder than the scarlet leather jacket she sported.
Key defensive plays and clutch free-throw shooting handed the Florida women’s basketball team its first win of the season Sunday over Texas Tech, 72-67, at the O’Connell Center to end the worst start to a season in program history.
“I’m proud of our kids. I’m proud of our effort,” coach Cam Newbauer said after the win. “Not just for today. We fought and clawed to get better every day. When we had to hit shots today, we hit shots. When we had to rebound, we rebounded.”
In the first half, it was close.
The Gators (1-6) crashed the boards hard against a Texas Tech team (5-2) that ranked third in the nation in rebounds per game (50). UF out-rebounded the Red Raiders 29 to 21 in the first half and held TTU’s 6-foot-5 forward, Brittany Brewer, to just seven points in the half.
But Brewer’s defensive presence kept the game close. The big forward planted herself in the paint and stuffed five blocks in the first half, denying anyone looking to drive to the basket. Florida opted for the deep shot instead.
Freshman guard Ariel Johnson rained big three-pointers all half. She made three of her first four shots from beyond the arc and finished the game 4-of-9 shooting with a career-high 14 points dished and five assists in the win.
“We knew we needed our freshmen to step up,” Newbauer said, “and when they did, it was huge.”
Guard Emanuely de Oliveira and forward Kristina Moore, the other two freshmen on the team, combined for 16 points and four rebounds in the game. Scoring by UF’s depth players was a big difference maker as its bench outscored Texas Tech’s 24-1 in the game.
The game was closer in the second half.
Brewer gave the Gators trouble, this time with her offense. The forward went 11-of-22 and finished with 28 points. Florida kept her in check in the paint, but she countered with four three-pointers in the second half.
Guard Funda Nakkasoglu, who was held to just four points in the first half, opening her game and help UF come out on top.
As the Red Raiders keyed on other players, the 5-foot-8 Australian was given more room to shoot, and she took advantage. She finished the contest with 21 points and some clutch shooting from the charity stripe to put the game away.
Nakkasoglu, along with Johnson and sophomore Kiara Smith, made eight of their last 10 free throws to ice the game as the Red Raiders desperately tried to make their way back.
“It was awesome,” Nakkasoglu said of the win. “We knew there was going to be adversity, but we were so eager to get that win that we locked in and finally did it.”
The team effort gave Florida its first win, but interior defense is still something to be worked on before the Gators’ next game on Wednesday against Bethune-Cookman at the O’Connell Center.
UF didn’t log a single block in the game and allowed too many open opportunities close to the basket. Newbauer expressed his frustration with the defense earlier in the week and will undoubtedly continue to press his team to improve in that area.
Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph or contact him at email@example.com.
UF guard Delicia Washington collected 10 rebounds and three assists during Florida's 72-67 win over Texas Tech on Sunday at the O'Connell Center.