As sophomore Nina Rickards drove right and kissed an acrobatic layup off the glass, the Florida bench erupted, and the third quarter came to an end.
Despite trailing by 21 points at the half, a dominant 10 minutes saw the Gators swell with visible momentum and cut the deficit to just 10 points when entering the final period against South Carolina Wednesday afternoon.
In the end, fundamentals were Florida’s undoing, as four of its 21 turnovers came early in the fourth quarter. South Carolina regained control of the game and won 75-59.
A steal and a score from center Alayia Boston gave the Gamecocks an early 6-0 lead, one which sophomore Lavender Briggs trimmed to three after a pair of layups. However, Florida endured a five-minute field goal drought which USC capitalized on.
A three-point jumper from Boston put South Carolina up 31-13 before a layup from Rickards temporarily stopped the bleeding for UF. Boston dominated the glass Thursday night with 16 rebounds and scored at will, tallying 28 points and knocking down three shots from long-range.
“We wanted to make Boston have to make shots from the outside,” Florida coach Cam Newbauer said. “She made those threes, and she’s just tough to box out.”
Florida’s rebounding struggles contributed to the lopsided scoreline. The Gamecocks only shot two points better from the floor but took 14 more shots due to the 19 offensive rebounds yielded by the Gators along with their 21 turnovers.
Facing a daunting deficit out of the locker room, the Gators refused to roll over and die. Quick buckets from Rickards and senior Kiara Smith showed Florida’s intent. Another Briggs layup sparked a 21-10 Gators spurt that ran through the end of the third quarter.
Following an inefficient start to the season, Briggs turned in her best performance of the season against her stiffest competition, scoring 21 points on 10-20 shooting and dishing out three assists.
“She’s a gamer,” Neubawer said. “She gets fired up for the big time teams. I’m really proud of some of her finishes today, and we learned some things about her game as well.”
The Florida players returned from their animated sidelines to begin the fourth quarter inbounding with a chance to cut the deficit to single digits. However, a turnover from junior Kristina Moore allowed Gamecock guard Zia Cookie an easy layup and sparked a quick 6-1 USC run.
Briggs’ eight fourth-quarter points kept the Gators within striking distance, but a dagger three-pointer from Boston slammed the door shut on Florida’s upset bid.
Newbauer expressed frustration with the result, but the third-year head coach was proud of his team’s resilience and defensive effort.
“It’s a good sign for us that we held them to 39% shooting, they normally shoot 46,” Newbauer said. “I think defensively we did a good job. It was just those offensive rebounds and turnovers.”
Florida will look ahead to its second-consecutive top-10 opponent Sunday afternoon. The ninth-ranked Aggies will put their undefeated record on the line at the O’Connell Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m. and will stream on the SEC Network.
Contact Declan Walsh at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @declanaw