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Sunday, February 25, 2024
Florida junior guard Nina Rickards holds the ball against the Georgia Bulldogs, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023.
Florida junior guard Nina Rickards holds the ball against the Georgia Bulldogs, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023.

Florida senior forward Faith Dut received a pass at the top of the key. The Vancouver, British Columbia, product scanned the floor and rifled a pass to senior guard Nina Rickards. Rickards finished the layup through contact and converted the three-point play.

The Gators made countless big plays in a dominant first half that springboarded them to their second conference win of the season.

The Florida Gators (13-7, 2-5 SEC) defeated the Vanderbilt Commodores (9-12, 0-7 SEC) 73-55 to snap a four-game conference losing streak. UF outscored Vanderbilt 48-24 in the paint and finished with seven more rebounds than the Commodores.

“We were able to go inside a lot tonight, which was good,” Florida head coach Kelly Rae Finley said. “It wears on the opponent, and I thought they did a good job tonight.”

Rickards led the way for the Gators with 15 points — all scored in the first half. Junior center Ra Shaya Kyle scored 13 points on 6-7 shooting, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked three shots.

Rickards gave the Gators the first lead of the game. Two quick baskets from the Queens, New York, native and a transition layup from sophomore guard Alberte Rimdal gave Florida an early 6-0 advantage.

 Vanderbilt freshman guard Jada Brown answered with a 3-pointer. Graduate student guard Narnelle Garraud then hit two free throws for the Commodores. 

Florida looked for sophomore forward Taliyah Wyche in the post, but the pass slipped through her fingers. The loose ball found Rickards underneath the basket, and she finished the layup.

Senior guard KK Deans rebounded a Garraud miss and raced down the court. The West Virginia transfer drove hard into the paint, shrugging off her defender and finishing at the hoop.

Rickards lobbed a pass down to Kyle underneath the basket on the next possession. The Purdue transfer made a layup and put the Gators up six at the end of the first quarter.

The senior guard continued her hot start in the next period. She cut to the hoop again for an open layup and drained a jump shot to start the scoring in the second quarter. 

Junior forward Jordyn Merritt — who played her first game since Nov. 26 due to injury — drove to the basket and lofted a floater over the defense. The shot missed, but the Plano, Texas, native got her own rebound and finished the putback.

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“She’s our sister, it’s more than basketball,” Rickards said. “Just seeing her happy and giving her all to help us win means a lot.”

Deans found Kyle for a close-range basket, then found Rimdal open in the corner for a 3-pointer to push Florida’s lead to 14. Kyle went to work in the post; she spun past her defender for a hook shot to give the Gators a 16-point lead.

Rickards received a pass at the free-throw line as the game approached halftime. Her mid-range effort missed off the rim, but Kyle was there for the rebound and putback to give Florida a 21-point halftime lead.

The Gators’ defense forced seven turnovers and held the Commodores to 7-29 from the field in the first half. Florida was even more dominant on the glass; it outrebounded Vanderbilt by nine through two quarters.

Rimdal hit another triple in transition off an assist from Deans early in the third quarter to give the Gators a 23-point lead. Dut found Kyle in the post, and the Florida center scored from close range again.

Senior guard Leilani Correa found Dut in the post, and she made a post hook to end a nearly three-minute scoreless streak for the Gators. Vanderbilt closed the third quarter on a 7-0 run to bring the Commodores within 17 heading into the final quarter of play.

Vanderbilt opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer from Garraud. It missed its first three shots on the possession but battled for offensive rebounds until it found Garraud open for three.

Commodores senior guard Demi Washington hit another triple to cut Florida’s lead down to 13 with just over 7 minutes to play. Deans responded for the Gators when she threaded a bounce pass to a cutting Correa for a layup.

Florida struggled to hold onto leads throughout conference play this season. However, the Gators held firm against Vanderbilt through the second half and never allowed the Commodores within 10 points in the final two quarters.

“I saw a different look in our eyes,” Finley said. “We thought about going there for half a second, and then we remembered that’s not who we are.”

Correa found Merritt rolling to the basket, and the junior forward finished to put the Gators up by 15. Merritt stuffed Garraud on a 3-point attempt, and Deans finished with a layup on the other end. 

A pair of Dut free throws and another Correa layup gave Florida a 21-point advantage and put the game out of reach.

Florida will be back on the road as it travels to face the Auburn Tigers Jan. 30. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.

Contact Topher Adams at Follow him on Twitter @Topher_Adams

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Topher Adams

Topher Adams is a fourth-year communications major and in his fourth semester with the Alligator. He previously covered football, baseball and women's basketball. He also enjoys professional lacrosse and Major League Soccer.

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