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Monday, September 20, 2021

UF’s hot start foiled by rebounding woes

<p>Sophomore guard Nina Rickards put up 18 points and sot 4-6 from deep in the Gators loss to the Seminoles.</p>

Sophomore guard Nina Rickards put up 18 points and sot 4-6 from deep in the Gators loss to the Seminoles.

Pat Riley famously preached ‘no rebounds, no rings,’ a mantra which fell on deaf ears in Tallahassee, Florida, Tuesday night. The Gators surrendered 17 offensive rebounds while dropping their fifth consecutive game against Florida State, 81-75. 

In a defense-optional opening to the game, an undersized FSU team managed to thrive under the rim, jumping out to an 8-2 lead on four buckets in the paint. UF quickly found its stroke from distance, as freshman Jordyn Merritt connected from three and sophomore Nina Rickards hit a pair of triples. A Lavender Briggs layup saw UF take a 15-14 into the first media timeout. 

The sophomore Briggs was dominant in the first quarter, scoring at every level for 11 points on 4-6 shooting. Her hot start was infectious, as the Gators opened up a 24-16 lead early into the second quarter. 

Florida State’s offense spread the scoring wealth against the Gators, with five Seminoles reaching double-figures. FSU didn’t hit a three in the first-half, but compensated by bullying UF in the interior and snagging eight offensive rebounds. 

“We just got our butts smacked rebounding wise and that was the key to the game,” coach Cam Newbauer said. “I wish we could have taken care of it, it would have been a great one.”

After a 14-3 Seminole run erased Florida’s advantage, the two teams played to a stalemate the rest of the half as Florida State entered the locker room with a 39-37 advantage. 

Newbauer opted to play a 2-3 zone in response to Florida’s struggles down low, a strategy which yielded a mixed bag of results. A consistent presence in the paint snuffed out drives from the perimeter, but UF struggled to defend in transition and rebound. 

“The zone actually helped us tonight,” Newbauer said. “The toughest part of the zone is the weak side rebounding. They only scored on six of their offensive rebounds, but then we got fouls and we had to guard longer, it just kind of wears you down.”

Juniors Morgan Jones and Valencia Meyers carved up the UF zone with good ball movement and persistent rebounding, as the former put up 22 points and the latter managed a double-double.

The Gators stayed afloat via the offensive production of Kiara Smith and Rickards, as the streaky Briggs failed to score in the third quarter. 

Rickards has emerged as a strong third option for UF this season, with the junior putting up 18 points on 4-6 shooting from deep. Smith went to her patented left-handed floater off the glass a number of times, scoring 12 points on the evening and adding eight assists. 

“Nina did a great job stepping up tonight,” Newbauer said. “She was taking big shots and making big shots and being aggressive. She’s only going to get better.”

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FSU was able to generate better opportunities from beyond the arc against the Florida zone. Kourtney Weber knocked down the ‘Noles’ third three of the half with 6:12 remaining, expanding the lead to 69-58. 

Florida refused to roll over against a double-digit deficit, as Lavender Briggs hit a pull up three and Kiki Smith scored off of a turnover to trim FSU’s lead to five.

The scoreboard read 74-71 with 90 seconds to play, but the Gators’ Achilles’ heel flared again, as UF surrendered two offensive rebounds and ultimately sent FSU junior Valencia Meyes to the line. She calmly knocked down both foul shots, and FSU iced the game away from there. 

UF has a quick turnaround after a six day break, returning to Gainesville for a 5 p.m. matchup against Charleston Southern on Wednesday. 

“We’ve got five games in nine days so there’s no time to think, Newbauer said. “You just have to recoup and show up tomorrow and compete.”

Fans can watch the Gators’ next game on the SEC Network + or live at the O’Connell Center, as tickets are still available.

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

Sophomore guard Nina Rickards put up 18 points and sot 4-6 from deep in the Gators loss to the Seminoles.

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