After three losses in a row, the Gators arrived in Athens, Georgia, with an aggressive energy that almost gave them their first conference win.
Florida left empty-handed against the unranked Georgia Bulldogs in a close afternoon match, losing 68-58.
The game began with a series of turnovers that recycled Florida’s previous mistakes. But Gators guard Kiara Smith quickly found her groove offensively, scoring free throws that opened a lead.
The advantage grew after a three from guard Kristina Moore, but two Georgia free throws created a 9-9 tie. Then, Gators guard Lavender Briggs made a jumper that retained the lead for the first quarter.
A bucket from forward Floor Toonders and five quick points from guard Nina Rickards proved that the Florida offense was heating up. Then, a Georgia three-pointer cut Florida’s lead to four before a Moore layup. Bulldogs guard Mikayla Coombs made a bucket, the buzzer rang seconds later and the Gators maintained their four point edge.
At the start of the second quarter, Georgia tried knotting the score up but ultimately left Florida trailing behind.
Briggs then made a second bucket, followed by a jumper from Gators forward Jordyn Merrit. Georgia responded with an offensive flurry that put it on top before a jumper from Briggs.
As a three from Bulldogs guard Gabby Connolly put Georgia up one before a quick response from Rickards, the lead see-sawed between the two teams.
That’s when Florida’s nightmares began.
Briggs, the Gators’ top scorer, picked up her third personal foul. With missed shots from Florida, a jumper from Moore couldn’t keep pace with the Bulldogs offense. Georgia guard Maya Caldwell scored a three, and the first half score tilted in Georgia’s favor.
Moore has a high motor and is constantly improving, coach Cam Newbauer said. At practices, she shows that she understands her angles and opportunities.
“She just plays so hard every day out,” Newbauer said.
A slow start from the Gators in the third quarter allowed Georgia to take control of the ball game.
Briggs, who was now back in the game, missed a three before making a layup and free throw. Rickards’ three wasn’t a match for a string of shots from Bulldogs center Jenna Stati, who finished with 10 points.
After two early turnovers led to buckets from Georgia countered the Gators’ defense like during the Thursday game against Mississippi State. Gators forward Faith Dut was missing in action until her first bucket that cut Georgia’s lead to 10 points.
Smith, swarmed by the Bulldogs, went for a layup that ended the quarter at 59-46.
The Gators entered the final quarter wasting no time, cutting Georgia’s lead from 15 points to eight.
Smith scored a free throw, with Briggs later hustling a rebound for a Smith basket. Two smooth buckets from Briggs paired with a steal and a layup from Smith. Still, it wasn’t enough to stop the Bulldogs’ early shots and assists.
A careless pass from Florida was the final nail in the coffin, giving Georgia possession during critical moments and preserving its 10-point advantage.
The team put pressure on the defense and was aggressive during the game, Newbauer said. They struggled because of foul trouble and careless turnovers, he said, adding that the players weren’t connected.
“We became pretty individualized, and that’s not who we are on or off the court,” he said.
The Gators will go head-to-head against the Arkansas Razorbacks in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Thursday. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. and will stream on the SEC Network.
Contact Grethel Aguila at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @GrethelAguila