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Saturday, November 26, 2022

Florida outlasts Arkansas for astounding 20th win of the season

The Gators turned the Razorbacks over 20 times to clinch their best season since 2016

Nina Rickards drives into the lane during a Feb 12, 2021 game against Kentucky. The Gators wore their pink uniforms Thursday night.
Nina Rickards drives into the lane during a Feb 12, 2021 game against Kentucky. The Gators wore their pink uniforms Thursday night.

Forward Emanuely de Oliveira's stay in Gainesville over her four years with Florida basketball has been a rollercoaster. 

Through injuries, two different head coaches and a messy return to the United States from home in Brazil last year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the senior has borne a great deal in her career. 

Now, she’s a leader on a 20-win team. 

What interim head coach Kelly Rae Finley loves about Oliveira is her readiness to contribute and be the glue holding the Gators together.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a different approach from Manu to any game, no matter who the opponent is or what the situation has been for our team,” Finley said. “That’s something that’s a skill.”

No. 17 Florida (20-6, 10-3 SEC) survived a late run from Arkansas (16-9, 6-6 SEC) to win 76-67. The matchup was UF’s first home game since Feb. 3. Despite suffering their worst deficit of points in the paint this season (a 46-26 Arkansas advantage), the Gators claimed their tenth win in conference play behind senior leadership and Arkansas miscues. 

Oliveira thrived in her first start since Jan. 6, contributing 15 points and eight rebounds to make up for the absence of sophomore Jordyn Merritt. She was joined in double figures by Gator guards Kiki Smith (19 points), Zippy Broughton (15 points) and Nina Rickards (10 points). 

Florida turned over a usually careful Razorback team a season-high 20 times, causing 16 in the first half. Arkansas entered Thursday with the nation’s second-best turnover rate with 10.8 per game. It was without Arkansas star guard Makayla Daniels, who suffered a knee injury in an overtime loss to Tennessee Jan. 31. 

UF continued its trend of capitalizing on opponent’s mistakes, pouring in 23 points off turnovers and ruling Arkansas in fast break points 22-3. 

The Razorback woes didn’t end there. 

Gator defenders held them to a miserable 1-13 from the 3-point line, another unusual mark from a team that ranks in the top-15 nationally in 3-point makes per game.

“In order to be a great defensive team you have to have a lot of trust,” Finley said. “I think that we’ve grown in that aspect.”

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Smith uncharacteristically missed some tough layups early on in the first quarter. The Razorbacks could not take advantage, however, as they went over four minutes without a field goal before a media timeout.

Shots from beyond the arc by Smith and freshman Alberte Rimdal sparked an 8-0 Gator run during that same span. Rickards was the only Gator getting her looks from midrange to fall at first. Her shot at the buzzer put Florida on top 18-13 at the end of the first quarter. 

The Gators started to convert from beyond the arc in the second, shooting 3-6 as a team on the quarter.. The streak was part of a 7-0 run over the last 1:12 of the half to give Florida a 14-point advantage. 

UF’s seniors kept them going in the third quarter. Smith, Broughton and Oliveira combined for 19 of Florida’s 20 points in the period. A 5-0 run late in the third found the Gators up 17 heading into the final quarter. 

Arkansas finally woke up in the fourth, outscoring Florida 21-13 in the final ten minutes. Razorback guards Samara Spencer and Sasha Goforth paved the lane at will and were a big part of a 14-3 run that cut Florida’s lead to eight with 49 seconds remaining. 

Yet, Arkansas’ hope was short-lived. Overcoming a team field goal drought over the final six minutes of the game, Smith and Broughton stayed characteristically cool. The duo hit Florida’s final six free throws to close out the win.

The Gators get back on the road Sunday. They are undefeated away from Gainesville in SEC play and now travel to Baton Rouge for a rematch with Kim Mulkey and No. 11 LSU. The game will tipoff at 4 p.m. and broadcast on the SEC Network.

Contact Caleb Wiegandt at Follow him on Twitter at @CalebWiegandt.

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