Three minutes until the final buzzer, Georgia center Jenna Staiti splashed a three from the top of the arc to grant the Bulldogs their largest lead of the game.
The Gators eyed a potential comeback but Staiti’s dagger pushed the Bulldogs’ lead to 13 stifled any of the Gators’ attempts to rally from behind.
Behind Saiti’s 30-point, 13-rebound performance, Georgia dropped the Gators in Gainesville, 95-80, Sunday afternoon.
“[Georgia] has always been a very good defensive team, but they’ve really found their momentum offensively now,” Newbauer said. “Having such a presence inside with Staiti, who can score inside and outside, . . . they just have so many weapons on the floor.”
Although it was senior day, Florida’s underclassmen delivered rare offensive performances.
Sophomore guard Nina Rickards scored 14 points, and freshman forwards Jordyn Merritt and Floor Toonders dropped a career-high 16 points.
“They (Merritt and Tooners) didn’t look like freshmen today against a top-15 team,” Newbauer said. “The growth and maturity they’re getting through all their experience this year is just a comfort level.”
The Gators also featured senior guards Kiara Smith and Danielle Rainey and forward Emily Sullivan heavily in their final game at the O’Connell Center. The senior trio received a playing time boost and combined for 24 points.
“It felt really good one last time with the seniors on our home court, so it was just a really amazing experience,” Merritt said.
Georgia’s defense centered around limiting Smith after she dropped a career-high 34 points against Missouri. The Bulldogs did just that, holding Smith to just 16 points on 33% shooting.
Despite losing the senior trio, Toonders remains optimistic about the Gators’ future.
“We’re really going to miss them,” she said. “But I think we learned a lot from them, so we’ll be ready for the coming years.”
Newbauer praised the seniors’ hard work during their time at UF.
“Regardless of how many minutes they play or not, . . . they’ve been great ambassadors for the university and the athletic department,” he said. “So we’re just grateful that they were Gators.”
The Gators struggled with turnovers. While Florida averages under 14 turnovers per game, the team committed 19 turnovers, which led to 22 Bulldog points.
Florida’s defensive struggles continued as Georgia scored a staggering 56 second-half points.
“We’ve been able to score in all these games, but our defense has just been what’s really struggled, and that’s what happened again today,” Newbauer said. “I don’t think we’ve had two quarters in a row where we gave up 56 points.”
After they dropped to 12th in the SEC standings, the Gators will return to the hardwood Wednesday in Greenville, South Carolina, to open up the SEC Tournament against the 13 seed, Auburn. Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m. and will stream on SEC Network.
Contact Griffin Foll at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @GriffinFoll
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.