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Tuesday, March 21, 2023
Kiara Smith
Kiara Smith

Down 12-4, Florida point guard Kiara Smith flew past traffic down the right side of the court. Just to the right of the paint, she pulled up over a Florida State defender with her left hand. 

Count it. 

A defensive stop later, Florida shooting guard Lavender Briggs took it up the floor and released it from the left side of the paint. 

Count it. 

Early in Florida contest against Florida State, that mini-run helped keep UF competitive. The No. 12-ranked Seminoles came to Gainesville with a 5-0 record. That win column expanded to six after a 66-55 victory over on Tuesday night in the O’Connell Center. 

UF finished the first quarter well considering a 12-4 start. A pair of back-to-back threes from Smith and Briggs in later possessions helped the Gators stay close, as well. But when the first quarter buzzer sounded, it was 25-16 in favor of the 'Noles. 

"(I was) just being aggressive, taking what the defense gave me,” Smith said. “Coming into a game like this, I knew I was going to have to get to the rim and be more physical, so that's what I was looking to do early on."

An immediate three at the beginning of the second quarter once again from Smith cut the deficit to 25-19. For the first time in the game, the Gators had real momentum. 

That surge continued when forward Zada Williams got involved. She hit one of two free throws on one possession, followed by snagging an offensive in rebound and putting it back up for an extra two on the next one. 

“We can't let them push us around like they do a lot of teams, so shout out to my teammates,” Williams said. “They just kept feeding me the ball, kept finding me.”

But every time Florida made a mini-run, Florida State did, too. Forward Kiah Gillespie and guard Nicki Ekhomu were a force against UF offensively. The ‘Noles averaged 81.4 points per game coming into the contest, and they continued that strong presence. 

Late in the first half, Smith drove left for a layup and awkwardly fell after her shot got rejected. She got up gingerly and missed a few minutes after that. Florida State coach Sue Semrau saw an opportunity to play a full-court press while the Gators’ floor general was absent. 

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And it worked. 

The Gators turned over the next two possessions. The mini-freezing of UF’s offense cooled down the run that Florida was on. 

But then Smith returned in the final possession of the second quarter to re-settle things. FSU paid close attention to her, thinking she’d take the final shot before half, only to find a wide open Florida guard Ariel Johnson on the right wing. Johnson pulled up just before time hit zero. 

Count it. 

It was now just a five-point gap between the Gators and their rivals, as FSU now led 36-31. 

The third quarter continued the climb back. The climb completed late into the third period of action off of a Briggs jumpshot that tied things up at 38. 

“For us, with our young group, to go up against them the way they did and shooting as poorly as we did, but still be in the game is a good sign,” coach Cam Newbauer said. “Eleven points is not indicative of what the game actually was.”

But the fourth quarter looked more like the first than the second and third. Took control and seized the game 66 to 55. 

It was FSU’s lowest point total of the season and its second-closest margin of victory at 11. The unranked Gators stayed competitive all game and proved that even through two losses in a row, this team is drastically better than the 2018 squad that only won eight games all year. 

"I loved our fight and our resolve,” Newbauer said. “We didn't shoot the ball very well at all, but we kept getting the right shots and we got stops in big moments.

Follow Graham Marsh on Twitter @GrahamMarshUF. Contact him at

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