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Monday, June 24, 2024

Gators win opener in Kelly Rae Finley’s first official season

Florida pulled away behind extended scoring runs in the fourth quarter

Gators forward Jordyn Merritt drive past a Florida A&M defender Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. The junior scored 15 points in Florida's first win of the season.
Gators forward Jordyn Merritt drive past a Florida A&M defender Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. The junior scored 15 points in Florida's first win of the season.

The Gators used a dominant fourth-quarter run to beat the Florida A&M Rattlers.

Senior guard Nina Rickards and junior center Ra Shaya Kyle combined for 17 points in the final quarter as Florida went on a 24-5 run to finish the game.

Florida starts the season 1-0 after defeating the Rattlers 83-55 in the first game of its season Monday night. The win starts Kelly Rae Finley’s first full season as the team’s head coach on a strong note.

The Gators started the game slow, trailing 8-0 to the Rattlers early. Two 3-point shots from senior guard Leilani Correa in the first quarter helped Florida claw back into the game. Her 3-pointers were part of 12 the Gators took in the first quarter.

Florida went on a 10-0 run to finish the opening quarter. Senior guards KK Deans and Correa lead the team in scoring with 19 of the Gators’ 25 first-quarter points. 

Florida’s defense stepped up in the second quarter. Correa had three steals, as the Gators’ aggressive defense forced 17 Florida A&M turnovers in the first half.

UF’s defensive pressure made up for the team’s shooting struggles. Florida made just 12 of its 37 first-half field goals. A layup from Correa at the 6:36 minute mark of the second quarter was the Gators' last made field goal before halftime. Florida failed to make its following eight field goals and shot just 18.8% from the field in the second quarter.

Junior forward Jordyn Merritt kept the Gators scoring, despite the poor shooting, with six free throws in the second quarter. Florida made 12 of its 15 first-half free throws and held a double-digit lead at halftime.

Florida A&M opened up the second half on an 8-0 run, but back-to-back 3-point shots from Merritt ended the Rattlers’ run. Both teams struggled to shoot the ball in the third quarter. The Gators’ shooting percentage sat at a lowly 26.3%, while the Rattlers did not make a field goal for the remaining five minutes of the quarter. Florida A&M took just 10 shots compared to Florida’s 23.

The Gators went on a 9-0 run midway through the fourth quarter. Correa made her third 3-pointer of the game to push UF’s lead to 18 points and forced the Rattlers to take a timeout. 

The stoppage could not slow down the Gators, as jump shots from Correa and senior guard Nina Rickards pushed their lead to 23 points. UF’s advantage  reached 25 points before Florida A&M took another timeout. 

The lead swelled to 26 points after a steal and layup from Rickards. The Gators outscored the Rattlers 24-7 in the final quarter and made 10 of its 17 fourth-quarter field goals. 

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“I think we finished strong, and I think that’s the most important thing,” Correa said. 

Four Gators players finished the game with double-figure point totals. Correa led the team in scoring with 18 points. 

UF finished with a 36% field goal percentage and a 29% 3-point percentage. The Gator's defense came up big, however, with 28 forced turnovers and held the Rattlers to a 38% field goal percentage. 

Finley was pleased with the effort her team showed, but there was room for improvement, she said. 

“I don’t think it was anybody’s best game tonight,” Finley said. “That’s a great sign for us as far as I’m concerned.” 

The pace her team kept was good, she said, and she liked how her team’s defense helped propel them to victory. She was proud of how her team played in the final quarter.

“We really finally kind of settled in,” she said. “We shared the ball, we were able to see things a little bit better on the offensive end.” 

The Gators' next game will be at home against UNC-Asheville at 2 p.m. Sunday. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network.

Contact Jackson Reyes at jacksonreyes@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter at @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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