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Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Gators head to Knoxville in search of their first ranked win

Florida faces its fifth ranked opponent of the season as the Gators travel to Knoxville for a road test against No. 20 Tennessee

Florida guard Kiara Smith has been heating up lately, scoring more than 20 points in three of her last four games. Photo from UF-Mizzou game Jan. 28.
Florida guard Kiara Smith has been heating up lately, scoring more than 20 points in three of her last four games. Photo from UF-Mizzou game Jan. 28.

After recording its sixth conference loss Thursday against Missouri, Florida intends to bounce back Sunday in Knoxville, taking on No. 20 Tennessee.

The Gators have lost to all four ranked opponents they’ve faced since Dec. 31. Sunday will mark Florida’s fifth top-20 opponent of the season. 

Tennessee boasts a 5-1 conference record and sits at No. 3 in the SEC standings. Florida enters the matchup with a 2-6 record in conference action, landing the Gators No. 11 in the SEC. The Lady Volunteers are 8-2 at home, while the Gators are 2-4 on the road.

Florida head coach Cam Newbauer missed Thursday's game versus Missouri due to health and safety protocols. Associate head coach Kelly Rae Finley filled the void for the second-straight game. It’s still unknown if Newbauer will return to his head coaching role Sunday.

Recent offensive woes

After shooting more than 48% from the field and a season-high 50% against Ole Miss, the Gators shot a season-low 29.6% from the floor against Missouri while hitting just 16% of three pointers and under 50% of free throws. 

In Tennessee's one-point victory over Ole Miss Thursday, the Rebels shot 54.5% from beyond the arc, boding well for the struggling Florida offense to bounce back.

Defensive force

In seven of their first eight SEC games, the Gators have held opponents below their scoring average. Florida’s stingy defense forced Missouri, which entered the game shooting 55% from the floor, to make just 33.3% of its field-goal attempts. 

At their defensive peak, the Gators held Auburn to 54 points and allowed the Tigers to shoot under 28% from the field, marking the lowest field-goal percentage Florida has allowed to an opponent all season.

Gators to watch

Despite a cold first half against Missouri, star guard Lavender Briggs notched her third double-double of the season due to her 19-point, 11-rebound performance. In conference play, the sophomore ranks No. 3 in the SEC in scoring at 21.8 points per game. 

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Briggs hasn’t reached 20 points since Jan. 14 when she dropped a career-high 41 points in Florida’s narrow road loss to Arkansas.

Florida guard Kiara Smith has been heating up lately, scoring more than 20 points in three of her last four games. The redshirt senior’s versatility has been on display as Smith leads the team in assists and steals and ranks second in scoring and rebounding.

Valuable Volunteers

Tennessee has faced six ranked opponents this season and has gone 3-3. Most notably, the Lady Vols hung in with No. 3 UCONN Jan. 21 despite losing to the Huskies 67-61.

Defensively, Tennessee has been stellar as the Lady Vols rank No. 3 in points allowed in the SEC, giving up fewer than 59 points per game. UT allows its opponents to shoot under 35% from the floor and under 30% from three.

Through six conference games, senior standout Rennia Davis leads Tennessee in both points and rebounds. The Jacksonville, Florida, native averages a 17.7-point, 10.2-rebound double-double in SEC action. Davis ranks No. 5 in the SEC in rebounds per game. 

Tennessee junior Rae Burrell leads the team in season scoring average at 16.6 points. The Las Vegas native shoots more than 44% from beyond the arc, ranking top five in the SEC.

Taking care of the basketball

One of Florida’s keys to success has been its ability to limit turnovers. The Gators committed 10 turnovers Thursday, marking the seventh game this season in which UF has turned the ball over 10 or fewer times. 

Tennessee has achieved this feat in only one game this season. The Lady Vols average 16.3 turnovers per game.

On the boards

The Gators own a dominating 7-1 record when they prevail on the glass. However, Florida will face a Tennessee team that ranks No. 2 in the SEC in rebounding, boasting a +14.9 margin.

Look to history

The Lady Vols own a remarkable 53-4 advantage over Florida historically. Last season, the Gators lost to No. 24 Tennessee by 28 points. Florida’s guard trio, Briggs, Smith and Nina Rickards, shot a mere 23% (9-39) in the contest. 

The Gators will look to win in Knoxville for the third time in program history. In 2006, Florida recorded its first ever road win against Tennessee in an overtime thriller. Ten years later, the Gators upset No. 12 Tennessee 74-66 in Knoxville.

Tennessee is the only program in the country that has qualified for every NCAA Tournament since it began in 1982.

How to catch the game

Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena Sunday. The game will air on ESPNU, marking Florida’s eighth nationally televised game this season.

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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