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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Dominant start lifts Gators to dominant victory over Spartans

Florida outpaced UNC Greensboro 16-1 in first quarter

<p>Florida junior center Ra Shaya Kyle dribbles the ball in the Gators&#x27; 83-55 victory over the Florida A&amp;M Rattlers Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. She tied her season high from that game with 15 points in Florida&#x27;s win over UNC Greensboro Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022.</p>

Florida junior center Ra Shaya Kyle dribbles the ball in the Gators' 83-55 victory over the Florida A&M Rattlers Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. She tied her season high from that game with 15 points in Florida's win over UNC Greensboro Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022.

The Gators came out on the attack. After defeating Miami in a dramatic overtime bout, Florida left no doubt against the UNC Greensboro Spartans. It outscored the Spartans 16-1 in the first quarter and never relinquished the lead.

The Florida Gators (11-1) took down UNC Greensboro (5-7) 79-55 Sunday afternoon in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

“I wasn't surprised by the start,” Florida head coach Kelly Rae Finley said. “They had tremendous energy before the game, and they were really focused and knew the importance of winning this game.”

The Gators won the tipoff and had the first opportunity to score. Junior center Ra Shaya Kyle was fouled in the paint but couldn’t hit either free throw.

The first score of the game came a few possessions later on a mid-range jumper by senior guard Nina Rickards. Kyle got another shot in the paint but connected on this attempt.

Sophomore forward Taliyah Wyche nailed a pair of 2-pointers to give the Gators an 8-0 lead and force a timeout by the Spartans.

Florida continued scoring, and UNC Greensboro kept missing. The Spartans’ first point came from senior guard Jordan Releford, who made one of her shots from the free-throw line. All of UNCG’s 17 first-quarter shots from the field failed to drop.

The Gators ended the first quarter with a dominant 15-point lead, 16-1.

UNC Greensboro’s first made field goal came on its first attempt in the second quarter. The Spartans saw more shots start falling, but Florida still held a 15-point, 26-11 lead when a media timeout was called at the 4:36 mark.

The Gators and Spartans were a combined 0-13 from the 3-point line to start the game. The first made triple came from UNCG with 4:21 left in the half. Graduate student guard Akira Wiggins connected on the shot for her first make of the game.

As UNC Greensboro heated up, Florida cooled down. Wiggins scooped the ball up for an impressive finish to bring her team within eight.

Rickards hit the last shot of the half as the clock expired to give the Gators a 30-20 lead at halftime.

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The Gators’ starting unit was strong, but the bench struggled to find its rhythm. Wyche’s four points off the bench were the second unit’s only contribution to the scoreboard.

With junior forward Jordyn Merritt still out of the lineup and senior guard Leilani Correa not playing, freshman guard Myka Perry and sophomore forward Paige Clausen played bigger roles than usual. Finley said Correa remains day-to-day.

Florida and UNC Greensboro were ice cold from beyond the arc. The Gators were 0-5, and the Spartans were 1-10.

UF scored the first nine points of the second half. Kyle connected for two baskets, and sophomore guard Alberte Rimdal hit a 2-pointer and a 3-pointer. The Spartans tried to climb back, but the Gators kept their distance.

Another basket by Rimdal and a layup by sophomore guard Jeriah Warren put Florida ahead by 20 points, 50-30. UNCG went on a 9-3 run to end the third quarter and trailed by 14 going into the final period.

Both teams were clicking offensively in the fourth quarter. However, the Spartans couldn’t come up with a stop, and the Gators earned a victory.

Florida scored 26, and UNC Greensboro managed 16 in the fourth quarter. The game ended, and the Gators’ lead ballooned to 24 points.

Kyle was aggressive all night. She finished with her second double-double of the season and tied her season high in points. Her 15 points and 11 rebounds helped her bounce back from a cold stretch.

“I haven't been playing to my full potential,” Kyle said, “but Kelly and my teammates did a great job of helping prepare me.”

Four Gators finished the game with double-digit points. Kyle’s 15 and Rimdal’s 19, which tied her season high, led the way for the team. Kyle said the team makes sure to get everyone involved.

“We don't have a selfish team,” she said.

The Gators went 2-10 from 3-point range in the game. Finley said she thinks the team has shot well this season and was playing to its advantage against the Spartans.

“Not every game is going to be the same exact game plan,” Finley said.

Florida will be back in action Wednesday when it travels to Charlotte, North Carolina, for the Jumpman Invitational. The Gators will play the Oklahoma Sooners at 9:30 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2.

Contact Kyle Bumpers at kbumpers@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @BumpersKyle.

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Kyle Bumpers

Kyle Bumpers is a fourth-year journalism major and the sports editor of The Alligator. In his free time, he cries about Russell Wilson and writes an outrageous amount of movie reviews on Letterboxd.


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