Senior Zippy Broughton confidently dribbled the ball just beyond the half-court line as the last seconds of the first half trickled away.
She calmly shifts the ball from one hand to another and the rest of her team eagerly awaits her next move.
When the game clock hit six seconds, Broughton used her quickness against a flatfooted Wildcat guard. She blew past her defender and met a wide-open basket. She sank in a textbook layup that sent the Gators into halftime on a 6-0 run and an 18-point lead.
The Gators (14-5, 4-2) continued their newfound success in conference play as they handed the Kentucky Wildcats (8-6, 1-3) their third loss in SEC play with a commanding 77-52 victory.
Kentucky came into Thursday night as one of the worst rebounding teams in the conference, Florida took full advantage of the undersized Wildcats on the backboards. .
“We felt like we had an advantage in the rebounding department,” interim head coach Kelly Rae Finley said after the game. “It was definitely one of our keys for tonight's game.”
Florida recorded 20 of its 44 first half points inside the paint as graduate senior Kiara Smith and Broughton pushed the ball to the frontcourt. Smith finished the night with 25 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists.
Florida fed the ball inside whenever there was a clear mismatch in size. Sophomores Floor Toonders and Jordyn Merrit towered over defenders to score easy buckets from up close. The Gators offense was patient and moved the ball around to create open looks as the Wildcats struggled to fulfill their defensive rotations.
“Jordan Merritt is extremely versatile,” Finley said. “She brings the ability to score on the outside and inside with her post presence, so she's a really tough matchup.”
When Florida wasn’t powering the ball inside, they were swinging the ball from wing to wing looking for the open shot. Freshman Alberte Rimdal lurked ready to capitalize on her teammates’ selflessness.
Rimdal was stellar from behind the arc, going 5-6 and ending the night with 15 points. Rimdal came into Lexington, Kentucky, following an incredible shooting night against the Crimson Tide on Jan. 16, going 5-5 from downtown and ultimately earning SEC Freshman of the Week.
Rimdal’s ability to stretch the floor and her consistency in doing so opens up Florida’s offensive efficiency.
“She's willing to do whatever the assignment is for the evening,” Finley said. “And that’s what makes our team so special.”
Kentucky struggled to keep up with the Gators’ relentless offensive game plan, but clawed themselves back into the game behind relentless defense and sloppy UF ballhandling. The Wildcats forced 22 Florida turnovers and generated 16 points off of those giveaways.
The Wildcats went on a 9-0 run to enter the final ten minutes of the contest. They accomplished this without one of their leading scorers in redshirt junior Dre’Una Edwards. Senior Blair Edwards and Robyn Benton were unavailable due to injury. Benton left the game following a collision underneath the basket.
The Gators silenced this run early in the fourth with an easy layup from Merritt and collected the second win of the season against a top-25 ranked team.
Next up for the Gators is a riveting matchup against Louisiana State. Florida hopes to obtain five straight victories against SEC opponents as the Tigers enter the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Jan. 23.
Tip-off is set at 2 p.m. and the game can be streamed on SEC Network Plus.
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.