Gators junior forward Jordyn Merritt drilled five fourth-quarter free throws to help Florida escape with a win against the Green Bay Phoenix.
After trailing for three quarters, the Gators took the lead in the final stretch. Merritt nailed the game-ending layup off of a steal and assist from Gators senior guard KK Deans.
Florida (5-1) defeated Green Bay (2-2) 61-52 Thursday in the St. Pete Showcase. UF senior guard Leilani Correa led the team in scoring with 20 points, with Merritt right behind with 17 points.
The Phoenix and the Gators both failed to control possession to start the game. Green Bay turned the ball over on all of its first four possessions, while Florida turned the ball over three times early on.
UF started the game with just one make in its first 14 field goals. The Gators went on a nearly eight-minute scoring drought after senior forward Faith Dut made two free throws. Correa ended the skid with a 3-point play at the end of the first quarter.
After trailing 4-0, Green Bay went on an 11-0 run to take the lead. The Phoenix only made four of its 14 first-quarter field goals, but they still led 11-7 at the end of the quarter.
Senior guards Nina Rickards and Correa found success attacking the basket to bring the Gators back into the game. Florida tied the game, but Green Bay forward Jasmine Kondrakiewicz hit two 3-pointers to make it an eight-point lead. The Phoenix continued to gash the Gators defensively, opening the second quarter on a 12-0 run.
Correa kept the Gators alive with five points late in the quarter and 12 points in the first half. She sunk UF’s first 3-point shot of the game after the team missed its first 11 attempts.
Dut scored a putback layup right before the halftime buzzer sounded to cap off a 9-0 Gators’ run and cut Green Bay’s lead to just three points, 29-26.
Florida opened the second half with better results from beyond the arc. Dut hit the first 3-pointer of the second half, and Correa made two of her own to keep it a one-possession game in the third quarter.
Despite the Gators’ 3-pointers, Green Bay attacked the basket and scored 10 points in the paint to maintain its lead going into the final quarter, 44-41.
After trailing most of the game, UF took a two-point lead off of a Dut triple with 6:31 left in the fourth quarter. The Gators held the Phoenix off the scoreboard for nearly three minutes as they clawed back in front.
Florida and Green Bay went back and forth down the stretch. Merritt continued to draw free throws to keep the Gators ahead. Florida drew 14 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter, making 10 of them.
UF outscored the Phoenix 20-8 in the fourth quarter and ended the game on a 9-0 run to finally pull away.
Free throws helped make the difference, as the Gators got to the charity stripe 27 times in the game, while Green Bay mustered only six attempts.
The Gators will play their second game at the St. Pete Showcase against the Houston Cougars Saturday at noon. The game will stream on FloSports.
Jackson Reyes is a third-year sports journalism major. He is the Gator's soccer beat reporter and previously worked as a general assignment reporter on the Metro desk. When he's not reporting, he enjoys collecting records and taking long walks on the beach.