Nine seconds in, Florida guard Lavender Briggs’ seamless three showed promise for the night ahead.
But it didn’t capture the Gators’ overall performance in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Florida confronted the No. 17 Razorbacks Thursday night in the hopes of earning their first conference win, returning with a 84-80 losing matchup.
It did, however, foreshadow a special night for Briggs. The sophomore reached a 41-point high — a jump from her previous record of 23 points.
To coach Cam Newbauer, Briggs’ pace was good from the get go.
“We’ve said it from day one, even since before she got here, that this young lady wanted to come here and really try to put us on the map and change this program for the better and that’s what she’s done,” he said.
The game began with scrambled possession, as the ball flew around the court until the Razorbacks picked up the pace and scored a series of free throws and layups that opened a five-point lead. Missed jumpers from Briggs and poor defense fed the difference.
Gators guard Kiara Smith’s bucket and free throw and Briggs’ layup then brought the score to 10-15. A missed three by Gators guard Nina Rickards preceded a smooth three from Briggs, her second in the quarter. Buckets and free throws from Arkansas subdued the Gators’ goal of evening out the score.
Briggs’ third three took the Gators to 18 points, with all but seven coming from her. Arkansas ended with 28, nine of them coming from star scorer Chelsea Dungee.
The Gators’ entered the next quarter with fierce vitality. Several Florida players stepped up, ending the total domination of buckets from Briggs and Smith.
Florida guard Yasmeen Chang committed a quick basket after a free throw from Smith. Gators guard Kristina Moore made a free throw, followed by a rebound from forward Jordyn Merritt that was turned over by Moore.
Dungee was afforded four free throw points, with the last feeding into a layup and steal from Smith that opened Merritt to an easy bucket. The game, now at 37-29, started looking like a possible Gator win.
Smith’s free throw and Merritt’s next bucket tightened Arkansas’ advantage to eight points — remaining that way until the end of the quarter. Briggs’ layup and Gators forward Floor Toonders’ free throws built up to a Smith shot that circled the hoop, surely leaving Florida fans in suspense.
Smith continued her aggressive offense, shooting six points in the final minutes.
Then, hope swayed as the ball flew to each side of the court during the third quarter.
It began slowly with a Briggs free throw and Arkansas bucket. Gators forward Faith Dut remained quiet and so did Rickards, who almost turned over the ball. A Moore jumper was no match for the Razorbacks’ back-to-back buckets. Layups and jumpers for Florida’s star shooters, Briggs and Smith, brought the score to 64-52.
Briggs rattled the Razorbacks with a suave three followed by a Smith free throw. Dungee had a slow quarter that she soon picked up. Rickards made a steal for a missed Smith jumper that led to a Merrit free throw.
A pull-up jumper from Briggs brought her to a career high of 25 points, with a quarter to go.
The fourth quarter started just as slowly as the last but turned around for the Gators. Briggs was hot with her buckets, making five. Rickards’ jumper was her only field goal of the night.
But that wasn’t enough. The Gators weren’t a match for Razorbacks’ aggressive defense. Despite two threes from Briggs in the last seconds, any semblance of a Florida win faded as the clock ticked to zero.
“We really had some spurts and some moments that weren’t great, but we fought back to give ourselves a chance,” Newbauer said.
Briggs wasn’t the only player to surpass 20 points Thursday. Arkansas’ Dungee ended the night with 33 points, four rebounds and three assists. Smith made 21 points, three rebounds and five assists.
The Gators will take on the Auburn Tigers Sunday in the O’Connell Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m. and will stream on SEC+.
Contact Grethel Aguila at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @GrethelAguila