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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Gators survive close game with Bethune-Cookman

Florida found second-half success at the free-throw line to pull away

Senior guard Nina Rickards, who scored a career high 23 points, drives past Bethune-Cookman guard Morgan Beacham Friday, Nov. 18, 2022.
Senior guard Nina Rickards, who scored a career high 23 points, drives past Bethune-Cookman guard Morgan Beacham Friday, Nov. 18, 2022.

Senior guard Nina Rickards helped stave off the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats with a career high 23 points. 

Both the Gators and Wildcats traded baskets all game long and Rickards helped keep UF in it by hitting clutch jump shots and stepping to the free throw line. 

Florida (3-1) defeated Bethune-Cookman (0-3) 82-73 Friday night inside the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. UF made more than half its shots and finished with a 52% field goal percentage. Second chance points helped keep the Wildcats within reach of Florida, outscoring the Gators 16 points to six in the category. 

UF head coach Kelly Rae Finley applauded her team’s leadership which kept the team alive in close moments throughout the game. Her team’s communication and effort were two of her main takeaways, she said.

“Those are some things and skills that we’re going to need to really, really put ourselves in good positions moving forward,” Finley said. 

The Gators opened the game with a barrage of shots from beyond the arc. Junior guard Jordyn Meritt hit two 3-point shots for Florida’s first points of the game, and Rickards followed it up with a shot from the corner.

Florida’s offense started quickly, making its first five shots and finishing the quarter making eight of 13 attempts. Rickards and Merritt remained active on the offensive side, attacking the basket to combine for 15 of the Gators’ 20 first-quarter points.

Bethune-Cookman opened the second quarter on a 6-0 run to cut Florida’s lead to five points. Senior guard Leilani Correa quickly hit a layup on the other end to stop the run. 

The Wildcats continued to cut into Florida’s lead, but junior center Ra Shaya Kyle found space down low on the offensive side to keep the Gators in front. While UF’s guards cut to the basket, Kyle found real estate to receive passes and convert layups. 

Bethune-Cookman used a flurry of shots from deep range to get back into the game. The Wildcats made four 3-pointers to cut Florida’s lead to five points at halftime, 37-32.

The Wildcats opened the second half on an 8-2 run to take their first lead of the game. 

Sophomore guard Alberte Rimdal attacked the basket to complete a 3-point play and put UF back in front. She then fouled a Wildcat player on the next possession to give back a 3-point play which tied the game. 

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Both teams found success going to the basket and scoring lightly contested layups. The Gators and Wildcats traded leads midway through the third quarter. With three minutes left in the third quarter, the Gators had made their last four jump shots while the Wildcats made their previous six. 

Florida maintained its slim lead heading into the fourth quarter by getting to the free-throw line. The Gators got to the charity stripe 12 times in the third quarter alone, after 10 trips during the entire first half.

UF’s ability to get to the free-throw line was a major advantage for Finley’s  team, she said. Finley’s team made a concerted effort to be more aggressive and use better mechanics to draw shots at the foul line in the second half. 

Florida made the most of its free throws with 25 made attempts — 19 of which came  in the second half. The Wildcats failed to draw fouls and finished the game with only 15 free throws. 

UF senior guard KK Deans opened the fourth quarter in style with a steal and breakaway layup, which she banked in. Later, Deans hit a wide-open 3-pointer to push Florida’s lead to eight points. 

She scored nine points in the final quarter to help the Gators slowly stretch their lead. Merritt hit a 3-point shot late to put the game out of reach and secure a bounce-back win for Florida. 

The Gators will stay home for their next game against the Furman Paladins Monday at 6 p.m. The game will stream on SEC Network+. 

Contact Jackson Reyes at Follow him on Twitter @JacksnReyes.

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Jackson Reyes

Jackson Reyes is a UF journalism senior and The Alligator's Fall 2023 Sports Editor. He previously served as Digital Managing Editor and was a reporter and assistant editor on the sports desk. In his free time, he enjoys collecting records, long walks on the beach and watching Bo Nix.

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