Florida forward Jordyn Merritt watched as the Auburn offense attempted to swing the ball to the top of the key for the waiting hands of guard Annie Hughes.
Merritt gambled and smoothly poked the ball into the open court. The sophomore chased down the possession, laying in a much-needed basket for Florida with 3:54 left in the third quarter.
The No. 17 Gators (19-6, 9-3) secured a Valentine’s Day road victory against the Tigers (9-14, 1-11) and improved to a 6-0 conference road record. Florida previously claimed road wins at Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Georgia.
Florida trailed 17-16 in the first quarter because of a severe shooting drought. The Gators ended the first 10 minutes shooting 6-18 (33.3%) from the field. Sophomore guard Aicha Coulibaly was electric for the Tigers, racking up eight points and two rebounds entering the second quarter. Florida forward Floor Toonders highlighted the shooting spell with her first 3-pointer of the season.
In the second quarter, Florida had a hard time keeping aggressive Auburn players from crashing the boards. The Tigers had seven of their eight offensive rebounds in the second quarter but could only produce five second-chance points the entire half.
Interim head coach Kelly Rae Finley said keeping Auburn from capitalizing on offensive rebounds was a priority coming into the second half.
“We just talked about getting back to our fundamentals,” Finley said. “I thought that off-ball we were a little stagnant.”
Junior Nina Rickards kept her team in the game with 10 points in the first half to go along with two rebounds. Rickards previously had one of her biggest games this season versus Auburn Jan. 13, scoring 14 points and securing five rebounds.
Coulibaly ran into foul trouble in the second half, picking up her fourth personal foul. With one of the top UF scorers of the game on the bench, Auburn responded fiercely with an 8-0 run to regain the lead, 45-43. This run was driven primarily by guard Annie Hughes after scoring seven points in the third quarter.
The Tigers tallied four 3-pointers at the start of the second half but left the door wide open for Florida to take control of the game by giving up 16 turnovers a third of the way through the game.
After 20 minutes, Merritt came alive in the third quarter with 11 points, three rebounds, and one block. Her efforts propelled the Gators ahead 60-55 entering the final frame.
“I thought Jordyn did a tremendous job tonight,” Finley said. “Just her overall intensity and focus and the composure that she brought to the floor I thought was outstanding tonight.”
Forward Kristina Moore scored a quick five points to help Florida string together a 7-0 run in the opening minutes of the fourth. Senior Zippy Broughton penetrated the flat-footed Auburn defense and ended the night with a team-high 18 points and six rebounds. Moore was automatic from the floor, concluding Monday night with 15 points in 11 minutes off the bench.
The Tigers had a sluggish start in the last quarter but roared back to force six Florida turnovers and a Hughes 3-pointer cut the lead to three with nine seconds left.
Moore and graduate senior Kiara Smith iced the game on the charity stripe, combining for three points.
Florida heads home to the Stephen C. O’Connell Center to host Arkansas on Feb. 17 at 6 p.m. The Razorbacks are hunting for their third-straight win following victories against Auburn and Missouri. The game will stream live on SEC Network Plus.
Brenda Bogle is a UF journalism senior with a specialization in sports and media. She joined The Alligator in the Fall of 2021.