Coach Cam Newbauer stressed that defense would be key before the Florida women’s basketball team’s game against Utah. Going against the 25th-best scoring offense in the nation is no simple task, and his young team had its hands full.
The Utes did nothing out of the ordinary. They played how they have the entire year, but there was nothing the UF coach could do but sit and watch.
Defensive breakdowns and Utah’s talented offense were keys in the Florida’s to the Utes, 74-58, in the first game of the Duel in the Desert in Las Vegas.
Florida continued its road trip with an uncharacteristically bad start. After a three-game stretch where the Gators held the lead at the end of the first half, an immediate 14-2 Utah run to start the game put the Gators down big and had them chasing until the end.
Utah (10-0) crashed the glass hard during its run and outrebounded Florida 10-3 with six offensive rebounds in the opening quarter, allowing far too many second-chance points. UF (3-8) also had no answers for guard Daneesha Provo, who totaled 16 points in the first half off 4-6 shooting from three-point range.
The Gators, with their deep shot taken away by Utah’s solid perimeter defense, responded by taking high-percentage shots closer to the basket. Zada Williams took advantage of Utah’s weak interior defense, registering 14 points on 7-9 shooting and a couple offensive boards.
“(Williams) was really good at screening and sprinting on those rolls,” coach Cam Newbauer said in a release. “We didn’t get her the touches we wanted in the second half, but she had a good game.”
In the third quarter, Florida responded by going on an 8-1 run led by Williams and freshman guard Ariel Johnson, who earned her first start of the year. Johnson’s mid-range shot, along with a solid team effort on defense, helped the Gators draw within seven points heading into the fourth quarter.
“(We) did a good job of communicating on defense,” Newbauer said. “That’s what we want every quarter, not just one.”
But the effort was not enough. UF was held scoreless for nearly half the fourth quarter, and Utah’s methodical offense expanded the lead with points off turnovers and efficient free-throw shooting.
Forward Megan Huff, who missed a lot of the third quarter due to foul trouble, put the game away with drives to the basket and perfect shooting from the charity stripe. The 6-foot-3 forward finished the game with a team-high 21 points and seven rebounds.
Despite the loss, there were some positives to take away for Florida.
The Gators made a good adjustment on the glass and began to box out more effectively to finish with 27 rebounds to Utah’s 31. Depth scoring was also a significant strength for Florida in the game as UF’s bench outscored Utah’s 21-12. With fifth-year guard and leading scorer Funda Nakkasoglu held to just seven points, the scoring off the bench kept the Gators in the game.
However, the Gators gave too many possessions away due to poor defense and an inability to make a single three-pointer until 5:37 left in the fourth quarter proved fatal for UF.
UF will now play UNLV on Friday at 3 p.m.
“(Utah) did a good job,” Newbauer said. “This was a great team with a great offense. In the second half, we just couldn’t find a shot. It’s about finding a focus. That’s why we play tomorrow: So we can see what we learned today. But we have to take better shots.”
Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter at @dyrudolph and contact him at email@example.com.
Gators coach Cam Newbauer: (Utah) did a good job. This was a great team with a great offense.