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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Florida holds on to win nail-biter against Alabama on senior night

Gators emerged victorious thanks to heavy contributions from their seniors

Florida guard KK Deans celebrates during the Gators' 90-79 loss to the Louisiana State Tigers Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023
Florida guard KK Deans celebrates during the Gators' 90-79 loss to the Louisiana State Tigers Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023

The Gators held a one-point lead with one minute remaining in the game. 

Florida senior guard Nina Rickards cut to the basket and caught a perfectly placed pass from junior center Ra Shaya Kyle. Rickards hit the layup to give the Gators a three-point lead with less than one minute remaining to put Florida in the driver's seat on her senior night.

“Nina and Faith have meant so much to this program,” said Florida head coach Kelly Rae Finley. “I’m proud of who they are and what they bring and what they stand for.”

The Alabama Crimson Tide had stormed all the way back thanks to a 63% second-half shooting performance and 10 triples after they trailed by as much as 18 in the first half. However, the Gators held onto their lead and defended their home court on senior night.

The Florida Gators (15-13, 4-11 SEC) defeated Alabama (20-8, 9-6 SEC) 81-77 Thursday night in their final home game of the 2023 season. The win snapped a five-game losing streak for the Gators.

The team honored seniors Faith Dut, KK Deans and Rickards prior to tip-off. It was an emotional scene, as the players exited the tunnels with their loved ones alongside them.

Deans’ favorite memory of the year was Florida’s double-header at the beginning of the season, she said.  

“Everybody just gave this type of energy, and I stepped back for a second to think: wow, okay, this is what Gator nation is going to bring,” Deans said.

Deans once again led the Gators’ scoring effort, contributing an efficient 22 points on just seven shot attempts. She made four of her five 3-pointers on the night and hit all eight of her free throws.

Florida senior guard Leilani Correa drilled a spot-up 3-point shot to kick off the scoring. She attacked the paint on the following possession and banked in an easy layup.

Dut hit a mid-range jump shot for Florida’s third-straight basket to open the game. 

Deans nailed a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer off an assist from Rickards. Alabama junior guard Aaliyah Nye responded with a 3-pointer of her own.

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Kyle finished a contested layup over her defender. Rickards then made a contested mid-range jump shot. Deans followed it up with a triple on the next possession to push Florida’s early lead to 20-12.

Kyle banked in an open layup after Correa grabbed two offensive rebounds. Florida forced a shot-clock violation to close out the first quarter.

Junior Crimson Tide guard Sarah Barker blew past her defender for an open layup — the first points of the second quarter. Rickards hit a moving mid-range shot on the following possession as the shot clock expired.

Deans drilled a contested step-back 3-pointer after Florida forced a turnover. Sophomore Gators guard Alberte Rimdal faked out both defenders with a pump-fake and sank an open mid-range shot to extend Florida’s lead to 15. 

Alabama graduate center Jada Rice hit a contested layup to end the 7-0 Florida run. Junior Gators forward Jordyn Merritt caught a pass from Kyle on a cut and finished the layup.

Kyle drilled a turnaround hook shot on the ensuing possession. Deans made a step-back mid-range shot over her defender to put Florida up 39-23. Sophomore Gators guard Jeriah Warren drove strong to the basket and banked in the layup to mark Florida’s fourth-straight made field goal. 

Graduate Crimson Tide guard Hannah Barber hit a 3-point shot. Correa drained a floater to close out the second quarter, and the Gators entered halftime up 45-30.

Alabama graduate guard Brittany Davis made a deep 3-pointer for the first basket of the third quarter. Nye hit a triple on the following possession. Davis then connected on another 3-point shot to cut Florida’s lead to eight.

Florida got off to a slow start in the third quarter but maintained its lead by converting free throws. Correa came up with an offensive rebound and hit a floater for the Gators’ first field goal of the second half. 

Davis got past her defender and finished a euro-step layup on a fast break. Kyle responded with a contested layup inside to put Florida back up by double digits.

Barber sank her second three of the game to cut Florida’s lead to 54-48 late in the third quarter. Davis followed the play by driving inside and hitting an open layup.

Rimdal caught a pass from sophomore Gators forward Tatyana Wyche and drilled a corner 3-pointer to end the third quarter.

Rickards came up with a steal and finished a contested layup for the first basket of the fourth quarter. Junior Crimson Tide guard Loyal McQueen hit a 3-pointer to pull Alabama within five.

Florida freshman guard Myka Perry drilled a corner three to respond. Deans made her fourth triple of the game to extend Florida’s lead to 70-64.

Nye nailed a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer to bring the Crimson Tide within three points. After Kyle knocked down a pair of free throws, Davis blew past her defender and hit an open layup.

Senior Crimson Tide guard Ryan Cobbins drained a 3-pointer over her defender to tie the game at 75. Correa converted one of her two free throws to give the Gators a one-point lead.

Rickards finished a layup inside off an assist from Kyle for Florida’s first field goal in more than four minutes of action. Barker responded with a quick layup to cut Florida’s lead to one again.

Kyle snagged a huge offensive rebound off a Florida miss and hit both free throws. Warren made one of two from the free throw line to give Florida a two-possession lead.

The Gators forced Alabama to miss on the final possession and held on to win 81-77.

Florida will play its final regular season game on the road against Missouri at 3 p.m. Sunday. The game will be streamed on SEC Network+.

Contact Austin Stirling at astirling@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @austinstirlingg.

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Austin Stirling

Austin Stirling is a third-year journalism major and sports reporter for The Alligator. He previously covered Gators women's basketball and is primarily covering soccer during the fall 2023 semester. He is a huge New York sports fan and is hoping the Jets can be a respectable football team for once in his life this season.


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