The Gators had finally gotten back in the game. They had blown their early 20-point lead but now had the game tied again with momentum on their side.
A steal by Alabama’s Shaquera Wade and pass to guard Cierra Johnson right at the end of the third quarter sent the entire UF team chasing in desperation. Johnson stopped short and threw up a one-footed, teardrop shot from the top of the arc that went in for her second buzzer-beater of the night and an Alabama lead.
Big shots from Johnson and her teammates were key on Thursday in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, as the Crimson Tide handed Florida a 74-67 defeat in its first conference matchup of the season.
The Gators started well in every aspect. Made shots from all over the court and stifling defense spawned a 17-0 run in the first quarter.
Forward Zada Williams and guard Ariel Johnson led the way with six points each after the first quarter. UF’s bench also stepped up when Funda Nakkasoglu, who is second in the SEC in scoring with 18.9 points per game coming into the contest, didn’t score a single point in the run.
It was a perfect quarter in what was sure to be UF’s first road win of the season.
However, Alabama (9-5, 1-0 SEC) adjusted halfway through the second quarter with a full court press that froze the Gators’ hot start. Florida (4-10, 0-1 SEC) began missing shots and committing turnovers out of frustration.
That frustration boiled over when coach Cam Newbauer was given a technical foul just before the end of the first half for arguing with a referee over a call. Johnson’s first buzzer-beater cut the 20-point lead to just seven heading into the break.
The troubles continued into the second half as a three-pointer from Johnson gave Alabama its first lead of the game.
Nakkasoglu finally found her rhythm to keep UF in the contest after scoring just five points in the first half. She finished with 18 points on 6-of-14 shooting.
But big plays, like Johnson’s off-balanced buzzer-beater and forward Jasmine Walker’s consistent three-point shooting, allowed the Crimson Tide to pull away with the game. The duo finished the game with a combined 42 points – going 8-for-11 from three-point range – along with 11 boards.
“We got off to a great start,” Newbauer said after the game. “But when you stop making shots and stop zoning in on defense, that’s what happens. That’s what playing in the SEC entails.”
Florida’s young offense went cold at the worst times, including a 3:07-span toward the end of the fourth quarter where it failed to make a single field goal.
“(Alabama) made some great adjustments and maybe not enough on our end,” Newbauer said. “We have a great game on Sunday at home against Auburn, and we’ll be looking forward to it.”
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“We got off to a great start,” Gators coach Cam Newbauer said after the 74-67 loss to Alabama. “But when you stop making shots and stop zoning in on defense, that’s what happens. That’s what playing in the SEC entails.”