Florida played lackluster defense in three games at the preseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament, but the Gators responded against Grambling State by putting on a defensive clinic on their home court.
Florida (3-2) defeated Grambling State (2-1) 70-55 at the Stephen C O’Connell Center on Friday night as the Gators outscored the Tigers 35-17 in the second and third quarters.
Junior forward Faith Dut and freshmen forwards Taliyah and Tatyana Wyche did not suit up for Friday’s game.
“That’s a coach’s decision, and they’ll be working their way back,” interim head coach Kelly Rae Finley said.
Sophomore forward Jordyn Merritt was also absent as a result of injury, not Finley’s decision.
Sophomore forward Floor Toonders started in Merritt’s place.
Grambling State employed a high-tempo press for much of the first quarter, forcing Florida to accelerate its offense and play in transition. Despite the style switch, the Gators held a 15-10 lead with three minutes to play in the first before the Tigers snapped off a 6-0 run to end the quarter.
Florida shot 50% from the field to Grambling’s 31%, but the Gators committed more turnovers and grabbed one fewer rebound than the Tigers.
In the second, Finley’s Gators ran its own full-court press, holding the Grambling offense to just eight points all quarter.
Through 20 minutes, Florida led 31-24 in a defensive battle of attrition. Both squads played aggressive defense for the majority of the first half, and offense came at a premium.
The Gators ended the half on a 7-0 run to enter the break with their largest lead of the night, 31-24.
De Oliveira led Florida with seven points, while Rickards and sophomore guard Brynn Farrell both added five of their own with a 3-pointer each.
Grambling State guard Alexus Holt, who averaged 25 points per game coming into Friday’s matchup, scored just three points in the first half on 1-6 shooting.
Although Florida looked to be pulling away as the first half ended, Grambling had no intention of going down easy in the second. The Gators’ lead dropped within four on multiple occasions in the third quarter, but Florida played well enough defensively to keep the Tigers out of striking distance.
Midway through the third, with Florida leading 33-29, the O’Dome fell silent as senior forward Kristina Moore fell to the court while securing an offensive rebound. She eventually had to be assisted off the court, and Finley said after the game she didn’t have an update on her condition.
When play resumed, Briggs nailed an open three to stretch the lead back to seven before senior guard Zippy Broughton quickly made it nine with a driving layup.
With a minute to play, Farrell nailed her second 3-pointer of the night to extend the Gators lead to 14. In a game where offense was hard to come by, Farrell was a model of efficiency, scoring 17 points in 15 minutes while going 3-3 from deep and 4-4 from the free throw line.
“She’s always ready,” Finley said of Farrell. “She’s in the gym always working.”
The Gators didn’t need an offensive explosion to down Grambling. Instead, Florida did its work off the ball, forcing turnovers and fighting for rebounds to suffocate the Tigers’ offense.
“[Defense is] very important, it's a thing that we work on every day,” de Oliveira said. “For our offense to succeed our defense needs to play well”.
Going into the fourth, Florida led 50-33.
The Tigers scored eight unanswered to open the final quarter and brought the deficit to nine points, clearly unwilling to throw in the towel. Finley called timeout to allow her squad to regroup, and Grambling couldn’t shorten the lead any further from there.
Farrell’s flawless performance led Florida, but the forward sustained an injury with seconds left in the game, forcing her to finish on the bench after she amassed 17 points on the night.
The two teams traded buckets in garbage time, but the Gators preserved their double-digit lead en route to a 15-point win.
Florida takes the court next against USC Upstate on Monday night at 6 p.m. The game can be streamed live via SEC Network+.
Contact Ryan Zehnder at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryan_zehnder.