Florida went into halftime nursing a slim one-point lead. Clemson pushed the Gators late in the second quarter and set the stage for a competitive second half. Florida had other plans.
UF — led by a bevy of seniors like forward Faith Dut and guard Nina Rickards — blew past the Tigers 22-10 in the third quarter to help pull away for a road victory to keep the Gators’ season rolling.
The Florida Gators (19-14, 5-11 SEC) cruised past the Clemson Tigers (19-16, 7-11 ACC) 73-63 Thursday night in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament Super 16.
UF dominated from behind the arc. The Gators hit a season-high 13 3-pointers against the Tigers to help Florida to their second-consecutive blowout win. Senior guard KK Deans led the way with four triples en route to 19 points. She also added seven rebounds and four steals.
Deans exploded in the first three minutes of the game. The West Virginia transfer splashed a trio of early triples as the Gators raced to an early seven-point lead.
Clemson forward Amari Robinson got her defender in the air and casually finished the open layup. Florida sophomore guard Alberte Rimdal answered with a layup of her own. Senior guard Nina Rickards drove to the paint and dished to Rimdal in the right corner for a triple.
Tigers guard Daisha Bradford hit a 3-pointer to make it a four-point game, but Deans immediately answered with her fourth long ball of the first quarter. Clemson guard Brie Perpignan took over late in the period with a pair of contested layups to cut the lead to one.
Junior forward Jordyn Merritt rolled past her defender in the post and scored first for the Gators in the second. Robinson answered with a layup to keep Florida’s lead at one.
Bradford put her hands up and snatched a pass from senior Gators guard Leilani Correa, and the Clemson graduate student found center Eno Inyang rolling to the hoop. The sophomore finished the layup to give the Tigers their first lead of the night.
Correa atoned for her earlier turnover with a big catch-and-shoot 3-pointer to time the game at 29. The St. John’s transfer restored Florida’s lead with another catch-and-shoot triple with less than four minutes left in the second quarter.
The offensive dried up for both squads for the final minute of the first half. A pair of Inyang free throws were the only points for more than three minutes, but the Gators took a one-point advantage into halftime.
Despite the slow finish, Florida’s offense thrived in the first half. The Gators lived by the long ball; they hit eight triples on 17 tries in the first two quarters. Deans led the way with 14 first-half points.
Rickards finished inside for her first points to start the scoring in the third. Senior forward Faith Dut received a pass on a roll into the paint and finished with an and-one opportunity. She cashed in from the charity stripe to give Florida a four-point lead.
Dut nailed a transition triple to give the Gators a nine-point advantage — their largest of the night. Sophomore forward Taliyah Wyche made a layup to push the lead into double digits for the first time.
Perpignan attacked the paint and drew a foul on Deans — her third foul of the night. The Tigers guard made both free throws to cut the lead to nine. Rimdal dished to sophomore guard Jeriah Warren, who scored to immediately restore the 11-point advantage.
Correa hit her third 3-pointer of the night to make it a 13-point game with less than 30 seconds left in the quarter.
Freshman Myka Perry drained Florida’s 12th triple of the night to start the fourth quarter. Rimdal added another long-range effort to give the Gators an 18-point lead with less than seven minutes to play.
Clemson nearly started to close the gap, but Rickards silenced the hosts with a pair of two-pointers to keep the lead at 16.
Bradford found Robinson in transition to make it a 12-point game with less than two minutes to play. Deans answered for UF with a layup and a foul. She failed to convert from the stripe, but the Gators held a 14-point lead.
The Tigers forced Florida into a five-second violation, and Robinson scored a layup to make it a 10-point game with less than 30 seconds to play. Bradford stole the ensuing inbounds pass and found Perpignan, who split a pair of free throws.
Deans secured possession after the free throws, and she made her first attempt after a Clemson foul. She missed her second but secured her own miss and saw the clock run out for the Florida victory.
Florida will face the Bowling Green Falcons in the Great Eight of the WNIT for a spot in the semifinals.
Contact Topher Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @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.