As the Gators prepared to take the court against Georgia State, one of the biggest opening cheers erupted when Kelly Rae Finley was announced as the head coach.
Finley was able to lead the Gators to their third straight win, an 84-70 victory Tuesday in the O’Connell Center, against the Panthers in as many meetings despite a slow start in the first quarter. The Panthers jumped to an early lead with two quick baskets and held the advantage into the second quarter, 14-12.
The Panthers were unable to stop the Gators once the second quarter rolled around, however, as Florida outscored its opponents 25-13. Florida led by as many as 17 and generated 12 fast break points.
The Gators blew the game wide open thanks to their ability to capitalize on the Panthers’ turnovers. Florida netted 14 points off seven Georgia State miscues in the second quarter.
Junior Faith Dut exited the game during the third quarter when she fell to the floor around midcourt holding her knee. Dut checked in early in the first quarter, and her presence was felt immediately. She scored two quick baskets and helped the Gators inch ahead 7-6 with a little over four minutes left in the first. She also scored an excellent and-one to put the Gators up by 12 in the third before her exit.
In the fourth quarter, Florida salted the game away to win 84-70.
While the Gators exhibition game against Flagler College showcased their newcomers, this match-up against Georgia State saw veteran Gators answer the call.
Graduate student Kiara Smith dropped 23 points to lead all scorers. Junior Lavender Briggs scored 16 points and was a perfect 3-3 from the free throw line, and Jordyn Merritt crashed the boards to help the Gators total 14 offensive rebounds for the game.
Finley said after the game that she sees Merritt as an excellent rebounder for the Gators.
“Jordan is an elite rebounder,” she said. “That’s something that we expect from her.”
Smith praised her new coach in post-game interviews, saying the team’s defense had grown tremendously under coach Finley.
“I think, once we locked into that, it really showed it,” Smith said. “That's one thing that coach Kelly stress at practice every single day just to defend the best to the best of our ability.”
Coach Finley added that the team had been working on their defense all week as well as keeping their game consistent on both sides of the ball.
“Playing through every possession that’s something that we do in practice every single day.” Finley said.
The Gators now set their sights on Townson for their first game of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament T preseason classic in Raleigh, North Carolina on Nov. 12. The game is set to begin at 4:30 p.m.
Contact Brenda Bogle at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @bogle_brenda.
Brenda Bogle is a UF journalism senior with a specialization in sports and media. She joined The Alligator in the Fall of 2021.