It was over early.
Florida was down 12 points against Texas A&M before fans could settle into their seats, and it only got worse from there. Where the team usually looks for a spark from one of its veteran leaders, only an empty seat on the end of the bench occupied the space.
The Gators were without junior guard Delicia Washington against the No. 19-ranked Aggies on Monday for an undisclosed, non-injury reason.
This was the third game this season that Florida did not have her in the lineup. Washington was sidelined on Jan. 27 with a concussion and missed a game on Dec. 21, when she was held out due to a “coach’s decision” that was never explained further.
But Monday seemed different. Washington wasn’t even on the bench motivating her teammates. She didn’t attend the game at all.
Coach Cam Newbauer declined to comment on the reasoning for her absence or whether she will return for UF’s final home game on Thursday against Georgia.
Washington’s disappearance left a big hole in the Gators’ lineup.
With her out, — along with 6-foot-1 forward Kristina Moore, who broke her arm Jan. 27 — Florida had few remaining players with the ability to get close to the basket for high-percentage scoring chances.
Washington is second on the team in scoring with 10.2 points per game, most of that coming in the paint using her speed and athleticism to blow by defenders.
With her out, Florida instead opted to shoot even more from beyond the arc. The Gators, who lead the SEC with 26 three-point attempts per game, threw up 31 against Texas A&M.
They did well, tying a season-high 13 threes made, but the one-dimensional game plan was not enough in what resulted in UF’s 14th double-digit loss of the season.
Washington’s scoring comes second to her rebounding ability. The 5-foot-10 guard leads the team in rebounds per game (7.7). Without her physicality and high vertical, UF was outrebounded 44-24 by the Aggies.
Even the Texas A&M coach, Gary Blair, chimed in on how UF looked out of sorts without one of its leaders on the court.
“I think it really hurt (Florida) not having Washington,” he said after the game. “Washington’s a very good player. Florida was short (without) her tonight, and I think it showed.”
Washington made both game-winning shots in the Gators’ two conference wins and provided a spark for her team late in other games. Her absence on Monday left a noticeable gap in the team’s morale and style of play.
Washington’s vanishing act adds to a list of problems during a season that has had more than its fair share. Newbauer has tested 10 different starting lineups trying to find the right combination to compete at a high level.
It is still unclear whether Washington will return to the lineup on Thursday. With or without her, Florida will have no easy task.
Georgia dominated the Gators earlier in the season, routing them 93-59 on Feb. 10. Washington played 20 minutes and had 12 points, but the Bulldogs still tyrannized on the glass, outrebounding UF 42-25 with 6-foot-3 forward Caliya Robinson hauling in a team-high 12 and scoring 17 points.
If Washington is indeed out for Thursday, UF’s issues will only magnify.
Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph and contact him at email@example.com.
UF guard Delicia Washington scored seven points in Florida’s 90-42 loss to Mississippi State on Jan. 24.