Florida senior guard KK Deans dribbled with the shot clock winding down. The Gators swung the ball around the arc but couldn’t find an open shot. The ball bounced back to Deans, who stepped back and sent a shot up at the shot-clock buzzer with 52 seconds remaining.
Deans’ shot fell and helped secure Florida’s victory in the fourth quarter.
The Florida Gators (17-14) defeated the Wofford Terriers (22-10) 66-63 at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
Senior guard Leilani Correa matched a season-high with 24 points. Deans and fellow senior Nina Rickards balanced UF’s scoring with 15 and 18 points respectively.
The game was a three-point exhibition in the opening minutes. Wofford guard Jackie Carman drilled a contested triple from the top of the key, and guard Annabelle Schultz hit another for the Terriers. Sophomore guard Alberte Rimdal got the Gators on the board with a three of her own.
Florida and Wofford kept the game close heading into the first media timeout. The Terriers led 10-9 at the break, but the Gators ripped off a 17-0 run over the final five minutes and 20 seconds of the first quarter. Wofford didn’t score a point in more than six minutes of action.
Senior guard KK Deans led the way for Florida with nine first-quarter points, including four early free throws.
The Gators continued to smother the Terriers in the second quarter. Florida forced a turnover, and Rickards cashed in with a pull-up jumper from the elbow. Wofford finally stopped the bleeding with a 6-0 run of its own.
Sophomore guard Rachael Rose brought the Terriers within six after she hit a pull-up shot from the elbow, and Florida head coach Kelly Rae Finley called timeout. The Gators couldn’t make a shot, and the Terriers cut their deficit to four with a putback by junior forward Abbey Crawford.
Correa finally ended the Gators’ drought with a transition layup, but Rose answered with a bucket of her own. Correa and Rickards scored a pair of baskets to push UF’s lead back to eight.
Wofford made it a two-point game with less than a minute left in the first half when Schultz drained her second 3-pointer of the night. The Terriers tried to take the lead in the dying seconds of the half, but Correa flew to the corner and swatted the shot attempt.
Wofford inbounded the pass with less than five seconds in the half for one last chance. Florida freshman guard Myka Perry fouled Terriers guard Helen Matthews. She hit one of two from the charity stripe to bring her team within one.
The Gators shot the ball well in the first half. They hit 48% of their shots in the first 20 minutes, but Wofford’s 11-0 advantage on second-chance points kept the Southern Conference regular season champions close.
Schultz gave the Terriers the lead in the third quarter with her third 3-pointer of the game. Rickards answered for Florida, but Wofford ripped off a 7-0 run to take its largest lead of the game.
The Gators battled back to make it a two-point game, but Matthews nailed a triple to push it to a six-point game. Correa answered with a corner three and sophomore guard Jerriah Warren made a layup to cut the lead to one.
Rickards drilled a pull-up jumper to restore Florida’s lead and cap off a quick 7-0 run for the home side. The Terriers regained the lead when Carman hit a pair of free throws.
Correa took the ball at the top of the key and attacked downhill. She made her layup and drew a foul. The St. Johns transfer hit her free throw to give the Gators a two-point advantage at the end of the third.
Wofford senior forward Lilly Hatton restored the Terriers’ lead with a 3-pointer. Warren answered with an and-one layup to wrench the lead back to the Gators. The sophomore wasn’t able to convert from the charity stripe but made a tough reverse layup to give UF a three-point lead.
The Gators pushed in transition and Rickards made a layup. The bucket gave the senior more than 1,000 points in her Florida career.
Hatton hit another triple to tie the game at 58, but Rickards couldn’t answer as her 3-pointer rattled out. She snagged an offensive rebound and hit a clutch jump shot to take a two-point lead with less than four minutes remaining.
Rose answered with a bucket of her own to tie the game.
After a lengthy cold spell from both teams, Deans drilled a long two-pointer to give the Gators a late lead. Carman hit a triple to give Florida a scare as the game neared its end. Correa hit a pair of free throws to make it a three-point game with 12 seconds to play.
Schultz missed her desperation 3-pointer, and the Gators held on for the victory.
UF will face off against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in the second round of the WNIT tournament.
Contact Topher Adams at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @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.