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Sunday, January 17, 2021

Gators ride hot start past Grambling

<p>Sophomore Nina Rickards had nine points, eight rebounds and two assists in the Gators first game of the 2020-2021 season.</p>

Sophomore Nina Rickards had nine points, eight rebounds and two assists in the Gators first game of the 2020-2021 season.

Florida kicked off the crucial fourth year of coach Cam Newbauer’s rebuild by giving Gator fans a reason to trust the process, serving up a dominant 90-47 victory against Gambling State. 

After beating the Tigers by just six points a year ago, UF asserted its dominance from the opening tip, scorching the nets from deep and opening up a 18-8 lead in under five minutes.

As promised, UF was running and gunning all game, attacking GSU’s 2-3 zone in transition, making the extra pass and catching Tiger defenders late on their rotations. Sophomore guard Nina Richards and junior Kristina Moore each knocked down a three before guard Danielle Rainey hit back-to-back from the perimeter, forcing Grambling’s early timeout. 

Rainey returned to the hardwood for her redshirt senior season after more than a year recovering from an ACL injury. She showed no rust in the first half, shooting 3-3 from the field for nine points. 

“There were no nerves,” Rainey said. “The game don't change, my teammates were looking for me, finding me, and it made the game a lot easier. It kind of slowed the game down a little bit.”

Florida’s perimeter shooting predictably cooled off in the rest of the first half, but the Gators continued to harass the Tigers with active hands and a token full-court press. UF forced 15 turnovers on Wednesday and scored 17 points off of them. 

Grambling showed some fight early in the second quarter, as the Tigers’ senior scorers flashed their experience by finding holes in UF’s zone and exploiting UF’s younger defenders. A deep three from guard Candice Parramore cut the Gator lead to eight and forced a timeout from Newbauer. 

Point guard Kiara Smith and the Gators responded immediately out of the stoppage, as Smith scored four in an 8-0 run. Florida would never trail by double-digits for the rest of the contest, entering halftime with a 47-24 lead. 

Smith led the Gators in scoring with 20 points and was their most effective defender, coming up with four steals. The redshirt senior lived in transition, but demonstrated a well-rounded offensive game, knocking down a three and shooting 3-4 from the line. 

I’m really proud of Kiki,” said Newbauer. “Proud of her leadership and who she's just continued to become.”

Even with an overwhelming lead, UF continued to play Gator basketball, getting out in transition and causing problems with its high-pressure defense. This was epitomized by a third-quarter sequence where Florida scored six points in about twenty seconds, forcing two turnovers with its full-court press. 

Despite UF’s offensive explosion, sophomore guard Lavender Briggs didn’t assume her usual spot as the Florida scoring leader, managing just thirteen points. However, the Preseason Second Team all-SEC selection showed a lot of growth as a facilitator and a leader without the ball. 

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“That’s big time,” Newbauer said. “For her to get a double-double in their first game and then have five or six assists, That's her understanding of the pace and the flow of the game.”

With a comfortable lead going into the fourth quarter, Newbauer was able to empty his bench, ensuring that every UF player scored on Wednesday. Newbauer mentioned the “next man up” mentality that he preaches and was happy every player could come in and contribute. 

UF will bring its 1-0 record up north for what should be a far more competitive matchup against Florida State on Sunday. The Sunshine Showdown will tip-off at noon on the ACC Network.

 

Contact Declan Walsh at dwalsh@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @dawalsh_UF.

Sophomore Nina Rickards had nine points, eight rebounds and two assists in the Gators first game of the 2020-2021 season.

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