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Friday, June 09, 2023

Gators romp Billikens in first game of San Juan Shootout

Florida defeated Saint Louis Friday night 69-54

<p>Florida&#x27;s Nina Rickards pictured during a Feb. 15 game against Kentucky. Rickards scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds in 35 minutes of action Thursday.</p>

Florida's Nina Rickards pictured during a Feb. 15 game against Kentucky. Rickards scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds in 35 minutes of action Thursday.

Saint Louis won the jump ball to start Friday night’s game, but just eight seconds later, Florida set the tone as junior guard Nina Rickards blocked the Billikens’ first shot attempt of the game.

The Gators (5-2) took a few minutes to get into Friday’s matchup offensively, but their stellar defense from the opening tip against the Billikens (1-4) ensured a decisive 69-54 victory in Florida’s first game of the San Juan Shootout.

After making the highlight reel in under ten seconds, Rickards contributed seven early points to jumpstart the Florida offense.

Florida led 19-12 through ten minutes and never looked back.

Saint Louis, by no means an offensive powerhouse on a good day, entered Friday averaging just 55 points a game, and Florida’s defense is the strongest they’ve seen this season. The mismatch showed.

The Gators allowed just seven points in the second quarter to cement a 40-19 halftime lead as Saint Louis went 2-12 from the field. 

After its slow start, Florida suddenly started rolling on offense. Sophomore guard Lavender Briggs recorded five points, five rebounds and three assists, leading the Gators in the latter two categories. Rickards led all scorers with nine points at the break while sophomore forward Jordyn Merritt and senior guard Zippy Broughton both added seven apiece.

In the third quarter, however, the Gators slowed once again, going 3-19 from the field. Florida’s strong defense continued in the second half, ensuring that its lead wasn’t in danger. 

Saint Louis won the third 12-10, but Florida took an insurmountable 50-31 into the fourth quarter.

Florida left its third quarter struggles in the dust in the final period to close out Saint Louis for good. 

Merritt finished with 13 points to lead all scorers, while backcourt anchor Kiara Smith stuffed the stat sheet. The graduate guard scored 11 points with five rebounds, three assists and three steals.

Florida will finish the San Juan Shootout against George Washington University on Saturday at 7 p.m.

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Contact Ryan Zehnder at Follow him on Twitter @ryan_zehnder.

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