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Saturday, October 23, 2021
<p>UF guard Kristina Moore suffered a broken arm on Jan. 27 in the Gators'  <span id="docs-internal-guid-f0f498df-7fff-e813-2948-5650cbfac9cd"><span>women’s basketball game against Arkansas. </span></span></p>

UF guard Kristina Moore suffered a broken arm on Jan. 27 in the Gators'  women’s basketball game against Arkansas. 

The first quarter seemed to be over.

A defender knocked the ball free from UF guard Kiara Smith’s hands as the clock wound down during the Florida women’s basketball game against Arkansas on Jan. 27.

Both teams began walking back to their respective benches, and coaches started planning for the second quarter. But Kristina Moore ignored them all.

The forward came out of nowhere looking to save the ball and the play. In her attempt, she landed awkwardly on her left arm. The crowd at the O’Connell Center went silent as Moore laid down on the ground for several minutes while two trainers tended to her.

As they led her off the court into the locker room, she hung her head and winced. She was told she had a broken arm, and the six-week recovery time kept her out for the rest of the season.

It wasn’t her first major setback, and it wouldn’t be the first time she faced hardship. She had come from Australia where she played semi-professional basketball and had already overcome previous injuries and challenges. This injury wouldn’t be the end.

“For the first couple of days (after the injury), it really played with me a bit,” Moore said. “I’m not rushing anything, but I want to be ready for when I come back. I will be back.”

***

Kristina’s whole family played sports.

Her dad, Andrew “Moose” Moore, and her brother, Alex, played rugby for most of their lives. They encouraged her to play sports ever since she was a little girl in Pennant Hills, Australia.

Kristina played soccer, threw discus and swam. When she was 11, a coach approached her at a club track and field meet and told her to play basketball.

“My dad was probably the happiest,” Kristina said with a laugh. “My dad was like, ‘Awesome. You need to get into that because you’re tall, and you can be good at that.’”

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Kristina started in the Under-12 league but struggled early. She had never played a sport with so much physicality and focus on technique. She began working with coaches on her ball handling and learned to impose herself in the paint using her size.

“I was bigger than the average girl, even at that age,” the now-6-foot-1 forward said. “It took me quite a while. Still not 100 percent there yet.”

As she grew into her frame in high school, Kristina developed her skills on the court. She started to use her size and toughness to score close to the basket, and success followed.

Kristina went on a short-term school exchange in 2015 to Ridley College in Ontario, Canada. She was named the Ridley College MVP after leading her team to victory at the Canadian Independent Schools National Tournament.

In 2016, she won a gold medal with the New South Wales team at the School Sport Australia Basketball Championships.

A year later, she competed in the semi-professional Waratah League with the Hornsby Spiders, where she played with professional players from all over the world, including Alicia Poto, who competed for the Australian women’s national basketball team and won a silver medal with them at the 2004 Summer Olympics.

“That year was the year that I grew the most in my basketball skills and knowledge,” Kristina said. “Playing alongside people like Alicia, and playing against other teams that had professionals made me have to learn quick.”

She learned fast and dominated the season. By the end, Kristina was awarded the Waratah League Rookie of the Year.

Soon after, she got offered to take part in a two-week long Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) tour in the United States to showcase her skills to college coaches across the country.

Her career was accelerating, but, in an instant, a massive injury put it all on hold.

***

Kristina had never considered going to the U.S. to play basketball. But when the President of AUSA Hoops, Rhys Murphy, approached her about the opportunity, she couldn’t say no.

“I was surprised honestly,” she said, “but that was the beginning of thinking about coming to America as a college opportunity.”

Murphy was a native of Hornsby, Australia, who played basketball at Oregon State University. He returned to Australia after his collegiate career to create AUSA Hoops, an organization designed to help up-and-coming Australian basketball players find opportunities to play in the U.S.

When Murphy saw Kristina play in the Waratah league, he knew that she could make it in the States.

“Off the court, she’s so sweet to everyone and looks like she couldn’t hurt a fly,” he said. “But on the court...she’s a killer. Tougher than everyone. Mixed up with it in the middle. It’s almost scary.”

In July 2017, Kristina joined Murphy and other promising players at two AAU tournaments in San Francisco.

She impressed once again. And colleges noticed.

After playing for years against semi-professional players in the Australian leagues, she grew accustomed to playing tough competition.

“It really got me used to the speed of the game over in America,” Kristina said. “(The tournaments) really sparked a lot of interest from colleges because they had never seen me, and they had never watched me play over in Australia.”

She was almost overwhelmed at the opportunities opening up as schools began to recruit her.

But most of those calls stopped when Kristina tore her ACL on a fast-break layup and missed the final three games of the tour.

“It was incredibly frustrating,” she said. “I was very fortunate to still have people interested in me even after the injury. Some still thought I could come back as good as I was before, and it made me want to.”

***

Florida coach Cam Newbauer heard about Kristina’s performances on the tour.

Newbauer was in his second offseason as Florida’s head coach and needed to secure a talented class and rebuild a program that had never won the SEC.

To start, he needed big, tough players in the post to grab rebounds and score close to the basket. Kristina was perfect.

Newbauer planned to travel to San Francisco to watch her in person until she tore her ACL. Instead, he stayed in Gainesville and weighed his options. Newbauer and the staff eventually to recruit her anyway.

“How she affected the game wasn’t based off athleticism alone,” Newbauer said. “A lot of what she does is based off toughness and smarts, so the injury wasn’t going to take that away in my mind.”

Newbauer and Kristina never met face to face before she visited UF.  They mostly talked on the phone and through video chat, but that was enough.

In December 2017, she took her official visit to UF to meet the players and coaches and to see what life would be like for her in Gainesville.

“UF is one of those schools that you hear of even back home,” Kristina said. “It’s one of those big American schools that you want to know more about. The prestige and family atmosphere was a top priority from me considering I was coming all the way from Australia.”

Kristina instantly felt at home. She talked to Funda Nakkasoglu, another Australian player on the team who was amid a season where she led the Gators in scoring with 14.9 points per game.

Kristina was also told by Newbauer that she would be allowed to throw discus in the offseason, a huge factor in her decision to sign with Florida.

Everything impressed her, from the team to the lifestyle at the university.

“America is just a completely different world,” she said. “The crowds and the culture in colleges, you get nothing like that back home.”

Kristina was convinced it was a perfect fit. She committed to UF less than a week after her visit.

“I knew I was joining a new coaching staff, and I wanted to be part of something big,” she said. “I could have went somewhere more established, but I think the fun of it is being with a set of people that are trying to change everything about basketball at Florida.”

But every startup has a tough beginning.

***

Six straight losses to begin a career will force any player to learn patience.

The Florida women’s basketball team was rebuilding, and patience was needed for a young roster that consisted of three freshmen and seven transfers to gel.

Newbauer changed his starting lineup seven times before the start of SEC play in the 2018-19 season, but there was one consistent factor.

Kristina’s ability to get to the basket and improve her jump shot every day compelled Newbauer to put her on the court as much as he could.

In the team’s first 20 games, Kristina was the only player to start every one.

“I don’t think I’ve ever shot more threes in my life than in the year since I’ve got here,” she said with a laugh. “It was definitely a transition for me since my game was down low for the most part.”

When she broke her arm against Arkansas, her second major injury in two years, Kristina’s absence was felt immediately.

UF won just three more games and got outrebounded in 10 of the 11 contests she missed. Florida did not have her stout, 6-foot-1 frame to play physically beneath the basket.

The Gators finished the season with a disappointing 8-23 record, but there was reason for optimism.

The team will lose Nakkasoglu, who was in her fifth and final year at the collegiate level, and guard Delicia Washington, who announced on Twitter her intent to transfer. UF will have recruits Lavender Briggs and Brylee Bartram, who set a national record for most three-pointers made in a career, to make shots from the perimeter, while Kristina and other forwards play down low.

Kristina is optimistic that she and the Gators can come back and be successful.

“We are definitely freshmen this year,” Kristina said. “We get a bit shaky. You can see that sometimes. We’re playing teams that have played with each other for three years. It will just take time, and I know that we’ll get there. I know we’ll be better.”

Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph and contact him at drudolph@alligator.org.

UF guard Kristina Moore suffered a broken arm on Jan. 27 in the Gators'  women’s basketball game against Arkansas. 

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