A major reason for Florida’s newfound success this season has been the on-court relationship between guards Kiara Smith and Lavender Briggs.
The backcourt tandem has developed a strong rapport through 27 games, but a misunderstanding between the two players in the closing seconds of Sunday night’s contest against Arkansas almost led to an undesired outcome for the Gators.
Briggs lined up in front of the scorer’s table and looked for an open teammate, as UF clung to a three-point lead with 1.5 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
All Florida had to do was complete the inbounds pass out of the timeout and sink a pair of free throws to put the game out of reach, but Razorbacks guard Chelsea Dungee prevented that from happening. She blanketed Smith every step of the way and intercepted the ball after an errant pass.
Dungee’s potential game-tying shot at the buzzer from near half court was off the mark, and Florida held on for an 83-80 victory over No. 22 Arkansas at the O’Connell Center.
The Gators (15-12, 6-8 SEC) and Razorbacks (21-6, 9-5 SEC) met earlier this year in late January, but the result was significantly different.
Arkansas came away with a 22-point win, while Smith recorded just 10 points, a rebound and an assist.
This time around, the redshirt junior paced Florida with a career-high 26 points to go along with four rebounds and three assists. Six of those points came in the final two-and-a-half minutes of the fourth to stymy Arkansas’ comeback attempt after being down by 14 in the first quarter.
Briggs dropped 20 points on 8-of-16 shooting from the field, marking the first time since March 3 of 2019 that UF had two players score 20 or more.
The Razorbacks, on the other hand, were led by guards Amber Ramirez and A’Tyanna Gaulden, each of whom registered 17 points.
Gaulden was at the forefront of Arkansas’ second unit, one that allowed Arkansas to get back into the game after going down by as much as 14 in the opening quarter.
She accounted for more than half of her team’s bench points (33) and nearly matched the output of Florida’s reserves (20).
The redshirt junior’s effort wasn’t enough, however, especially with the Gators outscoring the Razorbacks 52-43 in the paint.
“We led most of the game, and even when they (Arkansas) came back, we didn’t flinch,” Newbauer said. “(We) just played with aggressiveness on every possession, even when we made mistakes or didn’t get stops...That was the difference in the game for us today.”
Follow Bryan Matamoros on Twitter @bryan_2712. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org