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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Florida lights up the scoreboard in statement victory over Mizzou

The Gators scored 36 of their 86 points on the night in the first quarter alone

Senior guard Aliyah Matharu shoots a jumpshot in the Gators' 83-69 win against the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023.
Senior guard Aliyah Matharu shoots a jumpshot in the Gators' 83-69 win against the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023.

The Florida Gators women’s basketball team went twelve-for-twelve to start its Thursday matchup against the Missouri Tigers. UF knocked down its first 12 shots of the night en route to an electrifying 36-point first quarter to put the team in position to cruise to victory over Mizzou.

The Gators (14-11, 5-8 SEC) took home a massive 86-70 victory over the Tigers (11-15, 2-11 SEC) following a pair of bitter losses in the last week. 

Missouri did give UF some scares throughout the night after the latter squad took a 22-point lead into the half. At one point, the Tigers cut their deficit back down to 10 points, but the Gators always found a way to keep them at bay with an impressive double-digit victory.

“I thought we were the more connected team in spurts,” Florida head coach Kelly Rae Finley said. “We were ahead of the play most of the time, which was a huge success for us... And offensively, that’s just how we play. We want to play fast and we want to share the ball.”

Senior guard Aliyah Matharu dominated nearly every imaginable aspect of this ballgame. She tallied a season-high 28 points while adding four rebounds, three assists and two steals.

Senior guards Zippy Broughton and Leilani Correa came through with a pair of strong performances of their own. Broughton went 8-for-9 from the field, finishing the evening with 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Correa chipped in with 18 points, three rebounds and three assists.

Missouri freshman guard Abbey Schreake led her squad with 16 points on 5-for-9 shooting, including 5-for-8 from three-point range, while senior guard Mama Dembele and freshman guard Grace Slaughter chipped in with 15 and 14 points, respectively. 

As a team, the Tigers could not keep up with Florida’s lightning-paced offense on the night, only knocking down 23 field goals to UF’s 36 and coughing up 21 turnovers to UF’s 15.

Florida started off the evening blazing hot. Senior guard Zippy Broughton knocked down two early mid-range jumpers to get the team going, while freshman guard Laila Reynolds forced her way through the paint for a pair of lay-ins to invoke a Missouri timeout.

Following the break in the action, Matharu and Correa soon joined in on the fun. After Broughton knocked down another jump shot, Correa sliced through the Tigers defense for a quick layup. Matharu then dropped in a layup on a fast break before knocking back-to-back 3-balls. 

Correa followed up with another physical finish at the hoop, this time drawing the foul and converting on the and-1. Junior guard Alberte Rimdal and Broughton chipped in with another layup and a three-pointer, respectively, to force another Mizzou timeout.

“We weren’t questioning things,” Broughton said. “We started out determined, very determined… The first quarter was a phenomenal job that could be our standard.”

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Florida’s streak of 12 consecutive makes ended after a missed three from Matharu, but senior forward Faith Dut got the Gators back on track with a putback and-1. Florida went into cruise control for the remainder of the first quarter, eventually growing its lead to 33-13 by the end of the period.

With a 20-point lead after just 10 minutes of play, Florida slowed down its offensive aggressiveness in the second quarter. Nonetheless, the Gators still played with plenty of pizzazz as the evening went on.

In the second quarter, Dut blocked Mizzou senior forward Hayley Frank on a three-point attempt before snagging the rebound and hitting Correa on a perfectly placed fast break assist. Two possessions later, Broughton picked Mizzou senior guard Mama Dembele’s pocket and found Dut down the floor for another score in transition.

Later in the quarter, UF junior forward Eriny Kindred came away with another steal and took it to the house herself to cap off an 8-0 run for the Gators. The Florida offense briefly went cold for the next two minutes, missing their next four shots. 

Dut eventually got the team back on track with a fadeaway jumper at the top of the key. Correa followed suit with a flashy finish of her own on a no-look pass from graduate guard Kenza Salgues. To cap off Florida’s dominant first half, Correa drained another deep 3-ball to extend UF’s lead to 55-30.

The third quarter was marked by a lack of action from both sides. After Aliyah Matharu scored a layup on the opening possession of the second half, Florida went scoreless for the next three minutes. Missouri did not fare much better, missing its first three shots of the half before knocking down a pair of free throws to get back on the board.

The Gators eventually broke out of their drought on a layup from Zippy Broughton, but not before the Tigers took off on a 9-2 run. Junior guard Jeriah Warren briefly quieted Missouri back down as she met Mizzou freshman guard Grace Slaughter at the rim for a resounding rejection. Broughton took it down the court on the following possession for another easy lay-in.

Not to be outdone, Mizzou freshman guard Abbey Schreake knocked down back-to-back threes to garner some momentum for the Tigers. Dembele followed suit with a layup on the next possession to cut her squad’s deficit back down to 14 points.

Eventually, Correa decided that enough was enough. With the Missouri bench growing rowdier than ever, Correa drained a three-ball to quiet the Tigers back down. One play later, she drew yet another foul as she cruised to the basket for an easy and-one. 

As Missouri scrambled back down the court on the subsequent possession, Correa came away with yet another steal and hit Matharu on the fast break to cap off a quick 8-0 Florida run. With that brief scare taken care of, the Gators cruised to the end of the third quarter with their lead back up to 69-49.

The Tigers came back out swinging to start out the final quarter. After Missouri started the period on a 5-0 run, Matharu drew a technical foul after expressing displeasure with a jump ball call. Frank knocked down both technical free throws for Mizzou, but Matharu immediately answered back with a reverse layup on the other end. 

Matharu’s frustration came on a night where the Tigers shot 19 free throws to Florida’s eight. After the game, however, Broughton and Reynolds reaffirmed the team’s refusal to let the officiating affect their game.

“After every game, we go into the film room and— what does [coach Finley] say, Laila?” Broughton asked her teammate in the post-game press conference.

“The Gators don’t do excuses,” Reynolds answered back in her best Finley impression.

Missouri cut its deficit back down to as little as 11, but with less than five minutes to go, Matharu drove to the hoop and converted on another physical finish. Slaughter swiftly responded with a pair of free throws on the other end, but Matharu went back down the court and knocked down another mid-range jumper on the next drive.

Schreake proceeded to drill another three in transition to put the score at 75-65, marking Florida’s smallest lead of the second half. After the two teams exchanged blows over the next four possessions, Broughton sank a pair of free throws to put the Gators back up by 12. 

After a Tigers miss on the subsequent play, Matharu went back to the line and knocked down another two free throws for the Gators. As Dembele drove down the court for Mizzou, she attempted to find her teammate in the left corner, only to sail the pass into the stands and out of bounds. 

With the game all but sealed, Matharu drained a three from the Gators center-court logo to put the cherry on top of a stellar win for Florida.

The Gators are hitting the road for their next matchup on Feb. 25, as they will travel to Athens to take on the Georgia Bulldogs. Tip-off is set for 1 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on SEC Network.

Contact Jack Meyer at jmeyer@alligator.org. Follow him on X @jackmeyerUF.

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Jack Meyer

Jack Meyer is a third-year journalism major and a sports reporter for The Alligator. In his free time, he enjoys running, spending time with friends, playing video games, and watching the Miami Heat and Miami Dolphins.


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