Florida earned the No. 12 seed in the SEC and will face No. 13 Auburn in the SEC Tournament in Wednesday’s opening round.
The Gators compiled a 3-11 conference record — only eclipsed by Auburn’s tragic 0-15 conference record. The Tigers come off a 16-game losing streak, with no wins since Dec. 17.
The teams met in Gainesville Jan. 17 when star guards Lavender Briggs and Kiara Smith led the Gators to their first conference win. The duo dropped 40 points en route to a 68-54 win.
Florida must survive without Briggs, who’s out for the season following an injury. The squad will lean heavily on Smith, the SEC’s No. 6 scorer. She averages 18.4 points per game.
In the first game without Briggs, guards Nina Rickards and Danielle Rainey dropped career-highs against Kentucky. Rickards recorded a 19-point double-double, while Rainey sunk six threes on the way to her first 20-point outing. The three-point specialist shot 48% from beyond the arc in her last four games — a staggering 10% increase since Briggs’ departure.
Freshman forwards Floor Toonders and Jordyn Merritt also chalked up their own career highs against Georgia. Toonders, who averages under four points and four rebounds, poured in 20 on 7-8 shooting and grabbed seven boards. Merritt, who was named to the SEC All-Freshman team, averaged 14 points and 7.5 boards in Florida's last two regular-season games.
“They (Merritt and Tooners) didn’t look like freshmen [Sunday] against a top-15 team,” head coach Cam Newbauer said. “The growth and maturity they’re getting through all their experience this year is just a comfort level.”
Despite the Gators held Auburn to below 30% shooting from the floor, they struggled defensively in recent games. They allowed their last two opponents to shoot above 50% from the field and score more than 90 points.
Florida surrendered 56 second-half points at 70.1% shooting to Georgia Sunday.
“We’ve been able to score in all these games, but our defense has just been what’s really struggled,” Newbauer said. “I don’t think we’ve had two quarters in a row where we gave up 56 points.”
To secure a Florida win, the team needs to key in on Auburn forward Unique Thompson. The 6-foot-3-inch senior tops the SEC’ in rebounds and ranks top 10 in scoring.
Thompson earned second team All-SEC honors after she averaged a 17.8-point, 12.9-rebound double-double in the regular season. Thompson scored 14 points and collected 14 rebounds in her last meeting with the Gators.
The Gators will need to tame another Tiger: redshirt sophomore guard Honesty Scott-Grayson.
The Brick, New Jersey, native averages 16.7 points and scored a team-high 18 points against Florida the first time around.
The winner of Wednesday’s rematch will take on No. 5 seed Kentucky Thursday afternoon. Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m. and will air on the SEC Network.
Contact Griffin Foll at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.