Up two points with around two minutes left in the final quarter, Kentucky guard Rhyne Howard used a ball screen to gain leverage on Florida forward Faith Dut en route to the basket.
Dut fouled Howard on the way to the rim and the reigning two-time SEC Player of the Year converted an and-one to give the Wildcats their largest lead of the game.
Down by five, Florida forward Jordyn Merritt faced a double team after the Wildcats implemented a tricky 1-2-2 zone press and coughed the ball up at halfcourt. Kentucky guard Treasure Hunt drew it the other way for an easy layup to extend the Wildcats’ lead.
A Howard layup and pair of free throws put the nail in Florida’s coffin as Kentucky prevailed 73-64. Following a second-round exit in the SEC Tournament, the Gators left empty handed.
Head coach Cam Newbauer called Howard the “national player of the year without a doubt.”
“Kiki’s [Smith] just an absolute warrior,” Newbauer said. “She made some shots today that were phenomenal. She finds seams where there seems to be no seams in the defense.”
Smith sunk 14 of her 27 field-goal attempts and shot 3-6 from three-point range while collecting nine boards. Florida’s depth, however, failed to supply Smith scoring support.
“We just needed more from some other players, and it just didn’t happen,” Newbauer said. “Part of that is their defense, part of that is fatigue, part of that is shots just not going down.”
Redshirt senior guard Danielle Rainey shot 1-7 from the floor and 1-4 from beyond the arc after she scored 13 Wednesday on 50% three-point shooting. Rainey was the only Gator besides Smith who made a three — the rest of the team went 0-7.
Sophomore guard Nina Rickards couldn’t find her stroke either. The 5-foot-9-inch Queens, New York, native shot just 25% from the field even though she converted 11-23 from the floor in her previous two outings.
Coming off an 11-point, seven-rebound effort Wednesday, junior guard Kristina Moore scored just four points and failed to grab a board.
Kentucky outshot Florida by 10% from the field, 14% from three and 28% from the line. The Gators struggled at the charity stripe from the get-go and only made three of 10 foul shots in the first half.
“We’ve got mature kids that love to learn and they hate to fail, but they love to learn through failure,” Newbauer said. “And that’s what we will do.”
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.