With less than 30 seconds on the clock, the Florida women’s basketball team was one stop away from its third win in conference play.
As the clocked ticked down to 17 seconds, Arkansas had a chance. Razorback senior guard Makayla Daniels flashed towards the paint, drawing Florida senior forward Faith Dut in as a defender before the Razorbacks guard cut back towards the corner.
Dut, not fooled, stuck with Daniels as she lifted up for the potential game-tying 3. The shot clanged off the rim and fell safely into the hands of Gator junior guard Jeriah Warren.
As fans in attendance at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center roared and the final buzzer blared, even Florida head coach Kelly Rae Finley could not help but crack a smile.
“Never was there a moment [tonight] where there was doubt,” Finley said. “We were down 10 there, and they just looked each other in the eye and knew we got this.”
The Gators (12-9, 3-6 SEC) secured their third SEC win of the season in a tightly contested 84-81 victory over the Razorbacks (17-8, 5-5 SEC) on Thursday night. Florida led by as many as nine points and trailed by as many as 10 on the evening, but the team emerged from the dust triumphant following a strong fourth quarter showing.
Four Gators scored in double-figures on the night, as senior guard Leilani Correa led the way with 20 points. Senior guard Aliyah Matharu came through with a strong two-way performance, finishing with 17 points on the offensive end, and three steals and two blocks on the defensive end.
Warren secured her first double-double of the season with 12 points and 13 rebounds. She also knocked down the game-sealing free throws in the final minute of play. Rounding out Florida’s standouts, senior guard Zippy Broughton chipped in with 13 points of her own.
For the Razorbacks, Daniels finished with 26 points on 8-for-12 shooting on the evening. Freshman guard and SEC scoring leader Taliyah Scott tallied 20 points of her own as well. But not even Arkansas’ high-powered backcourt could power the team to victory over a fired-up Gators squad.
“I’ve always believed that we’re a really good team,” Finley said. “And that’s what you saw on the court [tonight]. Players making plays and us willing ourselves to accomplish the mission of what we set out to do when we started tonight.”
Defense dictated the action early on in Thursday’s matchup. The two squads shot a combined 4-for-19 in the first five minutes of the contest. Correa broke the dry spell for UF almost immediately after entering the game. She knocked down a mid-range jumper on her first shot of the evening, and the rest of the team followed suit.
On the following possession, freshman guard Laila Reynolds scored on a putback lay-in. Junior forward Eriny Kindred followed up with a fast-break layup of her own. Capping off Florida’s offensive outburst, Correa converted another tightly contested layup and a 3-ball.
The Razorbacks eventually found their footing offensively to put an end to Florida’s run. Nevertheless, the Gators kept their foot on the gas pedal as well, coming away with a 22-13 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Arkansas came right back at UF with a 16-5 run to start the second quarter. The Razorbacks went 6-for-6 from the free-throw line and knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in this span to jump back out to a 29-27 lead.
Following a Florida timeout to halt the momentum, the two squads exchanged blows for the rest of the first half. Matharu sliced through the Razorbacks defense for another physical finish at the hoop.
On the subsequent possession, Daniels drilled a 3-point shot. Florida immediately responded with back-to-back 3-balls of its own, courtesy of junior guard Alberte Rimdal and Broughton.
Matharu then started to heat up on her own, cruising through the paint for another layup and knocking down a 3 on consecutive possessions for the Gators. Not to be outdone, the Razorbacks knocked down back-to-back 3’s in the final two minutes of the quarter.
On the final play of the first half, Arkansas sophomore guard Saylor Poffenbarger intercepted a pass from Broughton and converted on a fast break layup at the buzzer. As the two teams returned to their locker rooms for the halftime break, the Razorbacks held a 48-46 lead.
The back-and-forth between the Gators and Razorbacks resumed as soon as the second half started. Warren and Rimdal knocked down a pair of threes to start the third quarter for the Gators.
Dut then elicited plenty of cheers from the crowd as she spun through an Arkansas defender for an impressive finish. Daniels struck right back with a 3-pointer from the tip of the center-court logo.
As the quarter continued, the dust briefly settled as both offenses cooled down. After three minutes of stagnant scoring from both sides, Arkansas junior guard Samara Spencer broke the ice with an and-1 layup to give her squad a seven-point lead.
From there, the Razorbacks went on a 10-4 run to close the quarter, extending their lead to 71-61.
Florida slowly started to claw its way back into the game at the start of the fourth. Broughton led things off for the Gators with a slashing layup, while Correa followed her up with a mid-range jumper and a 3-ball.
Scott responded with a quick layup of her own to halt UF’s momentum. Poffenbarger followed her up by banking in a 3 as the shot clock ran out to extend the Razorbacks' lead back up to eight points.
But the Gators refused to give in. Immediately after Poffenbarger’s circus shot, Correa sped down the court to convert on a flashy fast break layup. Warren then chipped in with a well-timed 3-ball off an Arkansas turnover, forcing the Razorbacks to call a timeout.
Even after the break in the action, the Gators kept on rolling. Correa flew underneath the basket for a reverse layup to make it a one-point game. Then, Matharu stripped the ball from the Razorbacks before taking it to the hole on the fast break. On Arkansas’ next possession, she did the exact same thing.
Suddenly, after trailing by double digits to start the quarter, the Gators now led 79-76.
But Arkansas quickly found a way to tie the game. Daniels drew the foul on Rimdal as she drove to the basket and converted on the and-1. Broughton returned with a 3-pointer to give Florida the lead again.
Not even 10 seconds later, Spencer cruised to the hoop for a fast break layup to cut the Razorbacks deficit to one.
Both sides briefly went quiet offensively. Eventually, with 55.8 seconds remaining, the Gators broke through. Warren drove to the basket and drew a crucial foul, allowing her to sink a pair of clutch free throws. Florida led 84-81. Scott proceeded to shoot a shot that came nowhere close to the rim, allowing Dut to tip the rebound to Correa and give the Gators possession. Matharu let the clock run down before driving to the basket, but she was unable to convert on the layup. Following a missed putback attempt from Warren, the Razorbacks regained possession and immediately called timeout.
Daniels found herself with the ball and drove towards the basket. She then backed out into the right corner and put up a potential game-tying three, but Dut locked her down and forced the miss. Warren came down with the rebound, and Florida immediately called a timeout.
The Razorbacks now found themselves forced to foul Broughton with four seconds remaining. Broughton went 1-for-2 at the free throw line, but the damage had already been done.
Arkansas chucked up a half-court shot as the final buzzer rang but to no avail. Florida had officially clinched its third win in conference play this season.
In their next matchup, the Gators will hit the road to face the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Feb. 11. The game will tip-off at 3 p.m. and will air on SEC Network.
Contact Jack Meyer at email@example.com. Follow him on X @jackmeyerUF.
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.