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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Florida avoids upset, runs away against USC Upstate in third quarter

The Gators survive a scrappy defensive performance from the Spartans

Florida's Lavender Briggs takes the ball up the court during a Jan. 28 game against Missouri.
Florida's Lavender Briggs takes the ball up the court during a Jan. 28 game against Missouri.

Florida women’s basketball continues this season as a team that lives and dies by the third quarter. 

And tonight's match-up against USC Upstate was no different as the Gators were able to blow the lid off a close game by rattling off 26 points in the third quarter to lead 54-38, sucking all signs of hope from their opponent.

The game began as an early defensive battle, but Florida outscored the Spartans 16-10 behind junior Lavender Briggs, who dropped six points in the first 10 minutes. 

Senior Zippy Broughton delved into her bag of tricks and pulled off a smooth layup, clutching the ball in mid-air and letting it glide off her hands into the hoop. The Gators led by as many as nine and looked primed to take the game over.

However, USC Upstate stuck around through the end of the first and cut the lead to six. Momentum eventually switched to their side, as the Spartans attacked the Gators with military-like precision 

Active hands in passing lanes and pestering defense were the ultimate factors propelling the Spartans to outscore the Gators 16-12 in the second quarter to enter halftime down 28-26, within two points of the upset. 

Senior forward Molly Coleman led the way for the Spartans in the first half with eight points, and 5-foot-3 senior Denijsha Wilson climbed the sky to snatch three rebounds from towering defenders, out-rebounding Florida’s 6-foot-4 sophomore Floor Toonders. Toonders grabbed only two rebounds for the Gators in the first half.

With a little over eight minutes left in the third, Florida graduate guard Kiara Smith hit the floor hard after getting fouled driving to the basket. She walked off the court under her own power and checked back into the game later on. USC Upstate head coach Becky Burke could be heard screaming for her team to “wake up” as training staff looked Smith over on the opposite side of the court.

Unfortunately for the Spartans, it was the Gators that came to life in the third quarter. Florida outscored the Spartans 22-10 on 10-12 shooting from the field. USC Upstate had no answer to the absolutely stellar offensive showing from Briggs, who finished the game with 19 points.

Florida interim coach Kelly Rae Finely said after the game that Briggs was getting back to her old self and has grown into an effective leader for the Gators.

“She's obviously an elite player who we rely a lot on,” Finely said. “One of the things that she's grown in the most is her leadership and her communication on the court.”

In the fourth quarter, the Gators put the finishing touches on their first-ever win against the Spartans. The Gators outscored USC Upstate 22-16 to secure the victory at home and keep  Florida’s home record at a perfect 3-0. 

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The Gators had to play without senior Kristina Moore and sophomore forward Jordyn Merrit, both sidelined with injuries. Moore landed awkwardly during the game against Grambling State last Friday, leaving the game. Finley said they are working with Moore to get her back on the court as quickly as she can.

Finely is still awaiting more information to see when Merritt could be ready to wear the orange and blue on the basketball court again.

“We're waiting on medical advice as far as Jordan’s return, but she's working hard and hopefully we'll be back with us soon,” Finely said

Next up for the Gators is a trip to Puerto Rico for the San Juan Shootout. The Gators face Saint Louis on Nov. 26 at 7 p.m. and George Washington the following day.

Contact Brenda Bogle at bbogle@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @bogle_brenda.

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