Florida’s women’s basketball team secured just eight wins in the 2018-19 campaign, with its final one coming in the 30th game of the season.
This year, however, has been a much different story.
UF’s multifaceted offense and relentless defense have resulted in stronger performances for coach Cam Newbauer and his team in the early stages of the campaign.
That was evident on Friday, as the Gators earned their eighth victory in the 11th game of the season by defeating Xavier 67-64 in the opening round of the West Palm Beach Invitational at Keiser University.
UF forward Zada Williams, who scored just five points in Tuesday’s 71-50 win over Mercer, dropped a season-high 25 points against the Musketeers (1-9) to lead all scorers.
The redshirt junior shot 11 of 18 from the field and converted on three of her seven free-throw attempts. She also snagged seven rebounds.
“Our players did a really good job of finding her, and she did an even better job of finishing inside,” Newbauer said in a release. “She took care of business when her number was called, and I’m really proud of her for that.”
Williams was Florida’s third-leading scorer (11.5 points per game) behind guards Kiara Smith (13.8) and Lavender Briggs (12.9) coming into Friday’s contest.
Yet the 6-foot-2 forward scored more than Smith and Briggs did combined, as the tandem of guards managed only eight and 14 points, respectively.
That’s the beauty of Florida’s offense this year.
It does not have to rely on one person to shoulder the load like it did last season with former guard Funda Nakkasoglu. She averaged 16.6 points per game, which was 6.1 points more than than the second-highest scorer.
Now, Newbauer can lean on the trifecta of Williams, Smith and Briggs to spark the offense even when one (or two) of them struggles to find the bottom of the net.
Florida (8-3) held the Musketeers to 38.3-percent (23-of-60) shooting and limited their best scorer -- A’riana Gray (13.3 points per game) -- to just nine points.
Although the Gators never trailed and led by as many as 11 points, Xavier still made things interesting in the closing minutes of the game.
A three-pointer from Musketeers guard Aaliyah Dunham with 12 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter trimmed Florida’s lead to 65-64, but two free throws from guard Ariel Johnson ultimately sealed UF’s second-straight win.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Newbauer said. “But for us to get a win on the road, for the young group we have to fight and close it out was good.”
Up next for the Gators is a meeting with Wake Forest on Saturday at 12:15 p.m. for their last game of the West Palm Beach Invitational.
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