To say that Florida’s women’s basketball team struggled on the road last season is an understatement.
It dropped 13 consecutive games away from home before taking down Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee, in the final week of the 2018-19 campaign.
But this year’s team wasted no time earning its first road victory, as the Gators defeated Grambling State 72-65 on Tuesday at the Hobdy Assembly Center in Grambling, Louisiana.
“I think it gives our kids a lot of confidence in knowing that we can go on the road early and stick together and grit out a tough win,” coach Cam Newbauer said.
UF had trouble finding the bottom of the net against the Tigers in the first half, going 11 for 32 from the field. That included a dismal 8 percent (1 of 12) shooting from behind the arc.
The only player to knock down a three-pointer was freshman guard Brylee Bartram, who made her collegiate debut for Florida. In her first game wearing the orange and blue, Bartram registered nine points on 50 percent (3 of 6) shooting from downtown in just 14 minutes of action.
Freshman guards Lavender Briggs and Nina Rickards impressed in their first outing, too.
Briggs started the game and played the second-most minutes (33) behind redshirt junior guard Kiara Smith (35). Rickards came off the bench at the 6:59 mark of the opening quarter and was on the court for a total of 25 minutes — the most of any reserve player.
Newbauer lauded the trio of freshmen for balancing their academic responsibilities with their athletic ones, especially in such a physically taxing preseason that consisted of 20 hours of practice per week, according to the third-year Florida coach.
“To see them have the resolve that they’ve continued to have is really exciting,” he said. “We’ve just got to make sure that we manage them correctly and help them through this, because their number is going to be called a lot this year.”
Briggs ended up with six points and a game-high eight assists, while Rickards posted 10 points and five boards.
“They go hard, super hard,” redshirt senior forward Zada Williams said. “They don’t really act like freshmen, so I’m really proud of them.”
If things get out of hand in Sunday’s home opener against Longwood — a team that finished 3-27 last season — then the freshmen may see even more playing time.
Follow Bryan Matamoros on Twitter @bryan_2712. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org