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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Florida falls at home to Georgia after fourth-quarter flurry

Senior guard KK Deans’ 21 points not enough hold off Bulldogs

<p>Florida senior guard KK Deans scored 21 points in a loss against the Georgia Bulldogs Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. </p>

Florida senior guard KK Deans scored 21 points in a loss against the Georgia Bulldogs Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023.

After a massive fourth-quarter swing, the Florida Gators faced a 10-point deficit with just over a minute left in the game against the Georgia Bulldogs. After senior guard KK Deans fouled out, fellow senior Nina Rickards stepped up for the Gators.

The Queens, New York, product’s 10 points and a handful of missed foul shots from the Bulldogs gave Florida a chance to pull off a miraculous last-minute comeback, but a late turnover ended those dreams.

Florida (12-5, 1-3 SEC) fell at home to Georgia (13-5, 2-2 SEC) 82-77 Sunday afternoon after the Bulldogs outscored the Gators by 14 points in the fourth quarter. Deans led the way for Florida with 21 points, including five made 3-pointers.

UF committed 29 fouls in the game, including 12 in the final period, leading to countless opportunities for Georgia down the stretch.

“We don’t make excuses in this program, but 17 free throws in the fourth quarter is a bit outrageous to me,” Florida head coach Kelly Rae Finley said after the game. “It was a game changer.”

Junior center Ra Shaya Kyle opened the scoring for the Gators, towering over her defender for an easy layup off an inbounds pass. Sophomore guard Alberte Rimdal drained a wide-open 3-pointer on the following possession to give Florida an early 5-4 lead.

Junior Georgia forward Zoesha Smith jumped a pass and took off in transition for a breakaway layup, but Deans raced down the court to meet her and steal the ball back for the Gators. On the following possession, Rimdal hit another triple to make it 14-10 Florida.

After a pair of jump shots from fifth-year Georgia forward Brittney Smith, the Gators held onto a two-point lead heading into the second quarter.

Fifth-year forward Audrey Warren launched a 3-pointer to open the second quarter, giving the Bulldogs their first lead since the opening minutes of the game. Kyle quickly restored Florida’s lead with a short jumper of her own, and a pair of free throws from Deans extended the lead to three.

After a short run from Georgia to tie the game, Deans restored the Gators’ three-point advantage after she connected on a step-back three. Two possessions later, Deans drove to the hoop and finished through contact for a three-point play.

Florida’s defense held the Bulldogs without a field goal for the last five minutes of the first half and just 1-12 through the end of the second quarter. Behind 11 points in the quarter from Deans, the Gators took a five-point advantage into halftime.

Kyle opened the scoring in the second half for the Gators, intercepting a pass and then scoring from a quick post hook on the ensuing possession. On the next Florida possession, Rimdal saved a long pass down the court. 

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She was able to find Rickards open on the baseline, who finished through contact for a three-point play. Georgia was forced to call a timeout after Rimdal nailed a 3-pointer to cap off an 8-0 Florida run.

The Bulldogs battled back in the third quarter after the early Florida explosion. Forward Brittney Smith finished at the rim and drew a foul to convert a three-point play and cut the UF lead to five.

Deans answered for the Gators on the following possession, draining her third triple of the game. After a quick defensive stop, senior forward Faith Dut collected an offensive rebound and finished inside to push the Florida lead back to 10.

Georgia once again answered with a run of its own, going on a 6-0 run to cut the lead down to four. Rimdal drained another three late in the quarter for the Gators, and on the next Florida possession, Deans drilled a fadeaway 3-pointer while getting fouled.

After Deans missed the ensuing free throw, Florida went to the fourth quarter up by nine.

The Bulldogs pressured Kyle in the post and forced a quick turnover that led to a 3-pointer from fifth-year guard Diamond Battles, cutting the lead to five. After a timeout, Battles made an open layup in transition to make it a one-possession game.

Kyle split a pair of free throws for the Gators to push the lead to four, but senior guard Alisha Lewis made a contested layup for the Bulldogs on the other end to cut it down to two. A jump ball gave possession back to Georgia, and another contested layup from Lewis tied the game.

After the teams traded baskets, Warren drained a wide-open shot from beyond the arc to give the Bulldogs the lead with just over four minutes to play in the game.

Battles drained another three for Georgia to push the lead to five, and Rickards answered with a quick layup for Florida. Smith scored a contested shot from close range and drew a foul, converting the three-point play to give the Bulldogs a six-point lead.

The Gators aggressively pressured the ball to try and close the late deficit, but Deans picked up her fifth foul of the game and had to sit out the final two minutes of action. 

Rickards and the Florida offense continued to attack, hoping to cut into the Georgia lead. The senior guard hit a corner three to cut the lead to seven and converted a pair of free throws to make it a five-point game with under a minute to play.

After a pair of missed free throws from Lewis, Rickards attacked the paint again, looking to cut the lead down to three. Her layup attempt fell short, and the Gators couldn’t corral the offensive rebound. The Bulldogs converted one of two free throws on the other end to make it a six-point game.

Rickards made a pair of free throws for Florida and drilled a massive triple to make it a one-point game after two more missed Georgia foul shots. Lewis scored two from the charity stripe, and Florida took over down three with 14.8 seconds to tie the game.

“She's athletic, and she has a toughness about her, which is great,” Finley said of Rickards late-game performance. “It's something that we're used to Nina doing late in games.”

Florida will be back in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center next Sunday when it takes on the Kentucky Wildcats. Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on SEC Network.

Contact Topher Adams at Follow him on Twitter @Topher_Adams

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Topher Adams

Topher Adams is a third-year journalism major and one of the assistant sports editors for the Spring 2023 semester. He also covered Florida football lacrosse for the paper and loves to follow MLS soccer and professional lacrosse.

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