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Friday, September 29, 2023

Florida fall on home floor again against Mississippi State

Gators now 3-8 in the Southeastern Conference

Florida guard Leilani Correa handles the ball in the Gators' 61-54 win against the Texas A&M Aggies Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023
Florida guard Leilani Correa handles the ball in the Gators' 61-54 win against the Texas A&M Aggies Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023

Florida head coach Kelly Rae Finley shifted her starting lineup for the first time in several games. Senior guard Leilani Correa replaced sophomore Alberte Rimdal in the starting five for the first time this season.

The move didn’t spark a change for the Gators’ offense, though, and Florida suffered another blowout defeat in conference play.

The Florida Gators (14-10, 3-8 SEC) lost to the Mississippi State Bulldogs (17-7, 6-5 SEC) 73-56 Thursday night in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Florida shot just 19-59 from the field and lost the rebounding battle 46-31.

Senior guard KK Deans led the Gators in scoring again with 17 points on 5-10 shooting. Correa, in her first start of the season, shot just 2-15 from the field and 1-8 from long range.

“I think Leilani didn’t shoot the ball as well as she would’ve wanted to,” Finley said. “The intention behind it was to switch up who we bring off the bench, try something different.”

Senior guard Nina Rickards got the Gators on the board first. Correa missed a 3-pointer, but Rickards corralled the rebound and made the putback. The Bulldogs answered with a post hook from junior guard JerKaila Jordan.

Correa splashed the Gators’ first triple of the night to give Florida a two-point lead halfway through the quarter. UF dominated the offensive glass in the first five minutes and racked up five early offensive boards.

Mississippi State junior forward Ramani Parker finished inside to give the Bulldogs a two-point lead. Graduate student guard Anastasia Hayes hit a 3-pointer to restore MSU’s lead after a pair of free throws from Deans.

Rimdal snagged a defensive rebound and lofted a pass to junior forward Jordyn Merritt, who found herself wide-open down the court. The Plano, Texas, product made her layup to cut the lead to one.

A contested layup from graduate student Asianae Johnson capped a quick 7-0 Mississippi State run to give the visitors an eight-point advantage. Rimdal received a pass at the top of the arc with the first-quarter clock running down.

The sophomore guard released her shot and hit twine as the clock expired to end the run and give UF momentum heading into the second period. The Gators shot just 5-17 from the field in the opening quarter, but a strong defensive showing — which forced six Bulldogs turnovers — kept Florida close.

Sophomore forward Denae Carter scored for Mississippi State after three scoreless minutes to start the second quarter. The teams traded empty possessions again until freshman guard Debreasha Powe made a layup to extend the Bulldogs’ lead.

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The Gators scored their first points of the second quarter with 3:25 left in the period. Merritt went to work in the post and drew a foul. She converted both free throws to bring Florida within nine.

Jordan drained a triple for MSU to push its lead to 12 late in the second quarter. She grabbed an offensive rebound and converted the layup with less than a minute left in the half.

The teams combined for just 16 points in the second quarter. The Gators shot a dismal 1-13 from the field and held the Bulldogs to just 5-16 shooting. Rickards scored Florida’s only field goal of the period when she hit an open 3-pointer in the dying seconds of the half. 

“That’s probably four or five second quarters in a row where we haven’t shot the ball as well as we’ve wanted to,” Finley said.

The Gators’ early rebounding advantage evaporated by the end of the opening half. Mississippi State outrebounded UF 23-17 in the first two quarters after Florida’s dominant start on the offensive glass.

Correa darted in from the corner and fought through traffic to snag an offensive rebound. The senior guard made the putback and drew a foul, though she missed the ensuing free throw. Mississippi State graduate student Ahlana Smith answered with a 3-pointer to put 14 points between the Bulldogs and Gators.

Merritt hit a 3-pointer after a quick sequence of ball movement to bring the Gators within 12. Florida freshman guard Myka Perry took the ball in isolation and nailed a long step-back jump shot on the next possession.

Mississippi State made a pair of quick layups to push its lead back to 14. After more than two minutes without a basket, Jordan darted past her defender for a wide-open layup in the dying seconds of the third quarter.

Powe opened the final quarter with a pull-up jump shot to give MSU an 18-point advantage. 

Deans hit a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter. The West Virginia transfer stole the ball and pushed in transition. The senior guard went coast to coast and drew a foul but split her free throws.

Johnson made a pair of buckets to push the Bulldogs’ lead back to 17 before Deans answered with a triple. Jordan hit a 3-pointer of her own on the next MSU possession, though, to keep the lead at 17.

Florida started to crater in the final minutes of the game. A pair of sloppy Gators turnovers led to four quick Mississippi State points. Redshirt senior forward Jessika Carter battled in the post and finished a reverse layup to push the visitors’ lead to more than 20 for the first time.

The Gators ended the game on a 9-4 run, but the late scoring was little more than a consolation as the Bulldogs walked away with a 17-point victory. Coach Finley addressed the team in the huddle post-game.

“I said that we’re not getting the results that we want, but we have the choice to stick together,” Finley said. “That’s what we’re doing, and that’s what we’ve done all season.”

Florida will be back on the road to face the Georgia Bulldogs Sunday. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 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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