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Monday, October 25, 2021
<p>Kiara Smith</p>

Kiara Smith

More than 1,000 elementary school kids come to the O’Connell Center once a year to watch Florida Women’s basketball on field trip day. And this year, they’ll watch an undefeated Gators team for the first time since the 2016-17 season, when Florida began 4-0. 

Following Florida’s 84-48 dismembering of Samford on Saturday, UF plays Presbyterian College on Monday morning at 10:30 a.m. in front of a crowd of small fans. Here are three reasons for the head-turning start, as well as keys to continuing to stretch the win column: 

Three-point shooting

Shooting from beyond the arc wasn’t a strength of this team until Saturday against Samford. Actually, it was a weakness. 

In the first two games against Grambling State and Longwood, the Gators shot worse than 25 percent in both games. However, the rim was much kinder to Florida over the weekend. UF more than doubled its season percentage against the Bulldogs at 52 percent from downtown. 

That includes a 73.3 percent first half. 

Expecting to shoot that well all the time is unrealistic, but a performance like that could bring better shooting nights consistently. 

“Can we make 11 threes every half?” coach Cam Newbauer asked after the game. “I don’t think so, but that’s crazy good.” 

Smith’s presence

Kiara Smith is Florida’s best pound-for-pound player. The starting point guard averages 14.3 points per game, the most of any Gator. She has the second-highest three-point percentage at 38.5, behind only fellow guard Lavender Briggs at 50. 

“One thing I worked on coming back this season was being more aggressive,” Smith said. “So I’m just doing that still finding my open teammates.”

Smith’s presence on the floor is the engine of this team. Most of the offensive possessions run through her, as she leads the team in total assists with 16. It’s obvious that the rest of the team plays off of her as the floor general. 

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Williams and Briggs’ efficiency 

Forward Zada Williams is having an excellent commencement to the year. Outside of Briggs and Smith, she averages the most points on the team with 12 per game. Her main contribution has been the efficiency of scoring inside. She rarely misses open looks, as her team-leading 72.7 percent field-goal percentage indicates. Her biggest weakness, as well as the rest of the team’s, has been free-throw shooting, as she is at 40 percent from the charity stripe on the year, the team as a whole is at 58.3.

That number needs to improve because she is a traditional down-low player. Her attempts come exclusively from right by the basket. With almost all her points coming with some sort of contact, a more effective Williams from the free-throw line would shore up one of the few weaknesses this team has shown through three games. 

However, even with lackluster free-throw shooting, her presence inside has been difficult for anyone to maintain thus far. 

And Briggs? The most pleasant surprise of Newbauer’s young squad. 

Through these first three contests, Briggs is a team-best 50 percent from three and averaging 13.7 points per game, only second to Smith. She is also efficient at 41 percent in field-goal percentage. 

Overall

It’s a hot start. It’s also against weak competition. Grambling State is 1-3, Longwood is 2-2 and Samford is 1-4. SEC play will be much tougher, but Florida looks much better. 

“I think we’re in a good place right now,” Newbauer said. “You’re seeing communication on a different level. In terms of accountability and in terms of helping develop each other.” 

Follow Graham Marsh on Twitter @GrahamMarshUF. Contact him at gmarsh@alligator.org

Kiara Smith

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