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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Florida loses a nail-biter in Newbauer’s absence

Without head coach Cam Newbauer, the Gators lost by three points to Missouri

Kiara Smith, one of the Gators' top scorers, underperformed against Missouri Thursday night.
Kiara Smith, one of the Gators' top scorers, underperformed against Missouri Thursday night.

Florida put the ball in Lavender Briggs’ hands out of a timeout with slightly more than eight seconds left in the game. 

On the back of her third double-double of the season, the 6-foot-1-inch sophomore made a costly turnover in the waning seconds, allowing Missouri to prevail 61-58 Thursday.

Both teams got off to a sluggish offensive start. It took the Gators almost three minutes to score their first points of the game on a layup from sophomore Faith Dut, while the Tigers took nearly four minutes to get on the scoreboard finally. 

Despite missing its first six shot attempts, Missouri scored the next 10 points until a Briggs jumper ended the Gators’ scoring drought.

After several back-and-forth scoring possessions, Florida junior guard Kristina Moore hit a buzzer-beating jumper that cut Florida’s deficit to 17-11 at the end of one.

Following guard Shug Dickson’s three and forward Ladazhia Willimas’ layup to open up the second quarter, Missouri quickly poured in five points to get its largest lead of the game. Then, Dut ended the Tigers’ streak with her second basket of the game before a pair of Missouri free throws maintained the Tigers’ commanding lead. 

In the final minutes of the first half, Florida guards Kiara Smith and Nina Rickards finally found the scoring column due to a Smith layup and a Rickards jumper. Smith entered the game after suffering a shoulder injury last Sunday against Ole Miss.

After struggling defensively, Florida entered the half with some momentum following a Smith layup with nine seconds left on the clock. The Gators trailed 29-21 heading into halftime.

Florida’s two leading scorers, Briggs and Smith, finished the half with only four points each on 4-24 combined shooting from the floor and 0-8 from three.

Out of the half, Rickards wasted no time for the Gators, sinking a layup and a three. Smith followed with a pair of free throws to cut Missouri’s lead to 29-28. This marked the first time the Gators were within one possession since the first quarter’s midway point. 

Despite Florida's fight back, the Tigers responded quickly with a layup and two free throws. After missing her first five three-point attempts of the game, Briggs finally connected from beyond the arc to keep the Gators within reach. 

A few minutes later, Florida freshman forward Floor Toonders made a layup to tie the game at 33, sparking an enthusiastic eruption from the Gators’ bench. 

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Missouri’s Williams scored six of the next nine points on two layups and a jumper from the paint. With under a minute remaining in the quarter, Florida guard Danielle Rainey drilled a three-pointer that temporarily slowed Missouri’s momentum until Missouri forward Hayley Frank hit a buzzer-beating jumper to extend the Tigers’ lead to 42-38.

To open the fourth quarter, a Briggs layup and Smith jumper kept Florida within one possession of Missouri as the Tigers answered with layups of their own. After a pair of Missouri free throws gave the Tigers a five-point advantage, Florida forward Jordyn Merritt responded with a layup before a pair of Briggs free throws cut Missouri’s lead to 49-48 with just under six minutes to go. 

The ensuing Missouri possessions resulted in three consecutive layups capped off by a free throw, granting the Tigers a 56-48 lead. A five-point Florida run on a pair of Briggs free throws and a Smith and-one cut Florida’s deficit to 56-53, making it a one-possession game once again. 

Following a pair of Missouri free throws that extended the lead to five points, Briggs made a jumper to cut the lead back to three with about two minutes left. After an opportunistic steal by Smith in which she drew a foul, the redshirt senior missed both of her free-throw attempts. 

After the Gators forced a Missouri miss, Smith drove hard to the basket where she was fouled again with less than a minute to go. At the charity stripe, Smith connected on both her attempts to make it a one-point game. 

Following a clutch defensive stop by the Gators, Florida freshman forward Jordyn Merritt drew a shooting foul but missed both shots at the line.

Still a one-point game, Briggs turned the ball over before fouling Missouri guard Mama Dembele on a fast break. Dembele made one of two free-throw attempts, making the score 59-57.

With 16.2 seconds remaining, Florida gave the ball to Briggs, who got to the line but made only one free throw. After a quick Florida foul sent Missouri to the line, the Tigers knocked down both foul shots to take a 61-58 lead with 10 seconds remaining. 

That’s when Briggs, who bounced back from a slow start with a 15-point second half, made a costly turnover in crunch time on Florida’s final possession.

Florida’s three leading scorers, Briggs, Smith and Rickards, failed to perform up to par. The trio shot a combined 9-52 from the field. The Gators struggled to manage Missouri's two leading scorers, Williams and Aijha Blackwell, who combined for 30 points and 24 rebounds. 

Despite the team’s struggles, Florida freshman Floor Toonders shined in the contest as she collected a career-high 13 rebounds, including six offensive boards.

“She [Toonders] made big-time rebounds in big-time moments,” Smith said. “That really helped us out a lot.”

With a loss, Florida falls to 2-6 in SEC action and 9-7 overall. The Gators will look to bounce back on Sunday as they travel to Knoxville to take on No. 20 Tennessee. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. and will air on ESPN.

Contact Griffin Foll at gfoll@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @GriffinFoll

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Griffin Foll

Griffin Foll is a sophomore at UF studying journalism sports and media. He is one of The Alligator's women’s basketball beat writers. Griffin is also a UF softball beat reporter for ChompTalk.com and contributes weekly articles for ESPN Gainesville.


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