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Friday, April 12, 2024

Gators women’s basketball runs out of gas in overtime against Ole Miss

Florida fell to 4-7 in conference play with Thursday’s loss

Faith Dut looks to pass the ball in the Gators women's basketball team's loss to the Ole Miss Rebels on Thursday, February 15, 2024.
Faith Dut looks to pass the ball in the Gators women's basketball team's loss to the Ole Miss Rebels on Thursday, February 15, 2024.

The Florida Gators women’s basketball team’s Thursday night showdown with the Ole Miss Rebels was full of twists and turns up until the final minutes of play. But in the end, Florida’s late-game struggles continued as they ran out of steam in post-regulation play.

The Gators could not hang on in a hard-fought 77-67 overtime loss to the Rebels on Thursday night. Ole Miss dominated the boards all evening long, out-rebounding Florida 55-27 on the night. In a crucial matchup between the two squads to potentially determine their respective postseason fates, the Rebels came out on top.

“This was a must-win for us,” Ole Miss head coach Yolett Alessia McPhee-McCuin said. “[Florida] did not want to lose two times, and we wanted to win one on the road… We don’t want any questions when it comes to if we’re an NCAA Tournament team.”

Senior guard Aliyah Matharu led the charge for the Gators, scoring 24 points in just 24 minutes of play. Senior forward Faith Dut chipped in with 11 points and four rebounds, while junior guard Jerriah Warren racked up four points, eight rebounds and six steals.

Standout senior guard Leilani Correa had a relatively quiet outing, only scoring 10 points while shooting 3-for-9 from the field. In Florida’s first matchup with Ole Miss on Jan. 25. Correa tallied a season-high 33 points. The Rebels still came away with an 81-70 victory then, but they became more wary of Correa as they prepared for their rematch.

“We took it personal and wanted to do our best to play team defense against her,” McPhee-McCuin said. “She’s so good, and one-on-one coverage doesn’t help. But we studied collectively a lot of film on her tendencies, how she likes to score, and the girls stuck to the game plan.”

Ole Miss senior forward Madison Scott had a night to remember, recording 27 points on 10-for-14 shooting and collecting 12 rebounds. Senior forward Marquesha Davis also excelled on both ends of the court, finishing the evening with 22 points, 10 rebounds and four steals.

In the first quarter, the Gators looked ready to go right away. Senior guard Zippy Broughton hit Dut with a no-look assist on their first possession of the game. Two plays later, Dut extended her range as she knocked down a 3. 

Broughton and freshman guard Laila Reynolds kept Florida’s momentum rolling with a pair of fast-break layups. Just like that, the Gators had already taken a 9-0 lead, and the Rebels were forced to call a timeout less than three minutes into the game.

While UF’s offense eventually slowed down, the Rebels offense continued to sputter throughout the first quarter. Ole Miss could not get any of their shots to fall early on, shooting 3-for-12 in the period. By the end of the first, Florida had jumped out to a 17-9 lead.

Matharu started the second quarter by drilling a 3 from the top of the key within the first seven seconds of the period. One minute later, she knocked down another 3-ball to extend Florida’s lead to 16.

The Rebels responded with a 7-0 run of their own to cut their deficit back down to single-digits. Not to be outdone, Matharu knocked down her third 3-pointer of the quarter to cool Ole Miss off. One possession later, Matharu dished it over to Dut, who bullied her way through the paint for an and-1 lay-in.

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As the first half came to a close, the Gators went cold. Following a jumper from Scott and a fast-break layup from senior guard Kennedy Todd-Williams, the Rebels cut their deficit down to just five points. 

With Florida’s momentum on the brink of collapsing, junior guard Alberte Rimdal sunk a timely 3-pointer in the final minute of play. By the end of the half, Florida’s lead sat at 34-26.

The Gators' offense suddenly went ice cold to start the second half. In the first five minutes of the third quarter, Florida coughed up three turnovers and committed five fouls, leaving the door wide open for an Ole Miss comeback. 

Following a 10-4 run from the Rebels to cut their deficit to one point, the two squads continued exchanging blows until senior guard Leilani Correa briefly came back to life. Correa knocked down a 3-pointer for just her second basket of the game to put the Gators back up by four. Then, 71 seconds later, she drilled another 3-ball to get the crowd at Exactech Arena back on its feet.

The two squads proceeded to go scoreless for the next two minutes for a relatively quiet finish to the quarter. At the end of the third, Florida led 50-45.

In the fourth quarter, neither team could seemingly pull away at first. For every move the Gators made, the Rebels were one step behind them. Eventually, Warren knocked down a corner three for her first shot of the night to shift the momentum in Florida’s favor. With just 4:19 left on the clock, Ole Miss called a timeout with UF’s lead now at 60-54.

Scott knocked down a layup coming out of the break to cut Ole Miss’ deficit to four points. Two minutes later, she snagged the offensive rebound on a Rebels miss and laid in the putback to make it a one-score game. 

Rimdal missed a layup for Florida on the other end, clearing the way for Todd-Williams to knock down a fast-break jumper to tie the game up at 60-60. Following another missed layup from Rimdal, the Rebels took possession with less than one minute remaining. 

Ole Miss now had an opportunity to take its first lead of the game. But alas, it was not meant to be, as Todd-Williams could not convert on the potential go-ahead layup. In the ensuing scuffle for the rebound, Warren was fouled and went to the line. She missed the first free throw but knocked down the second one, and Florida had taken a one-point lead.

Rather than biding their time, the Rebels went right for the kill shot. Scott pulled up at the top of the key, letting a mid-range jump shot fly. The ball sailed through the hoop, hitting nothing but net. Ole Miss had taken their first lead of the night with just 17 seconds remaining.

But Aliyah Matharu remained unfazed. As she said herself in Florida’s Unlaced series, she sees herself as a dog and her opponents as dog food. And as she sliced through the Ole Miss defense, it was chow time. Matharu drove to the hoop and converted an and-1 layup with 11 seconds remaining to put the Gators up by two. 

But just when the ending to this game seemingly could not become any more wild, Davis stepped up and drilled a mid-range jumper in the final seconds of regulation. With the game tied back up at 64-64, the Gators and Rebels were suddenly overtime-bound.

“We’ve lost a lot of close games, and there have been games where we started off slow like we did today,” Scott said. “So, we take all those losses, all those downfalls and learn from them. We showed tonight that we learned from those mistakes and we did not let them happen again.”

In overtime, it soon became clear that the Gators were running on empty. Florida’s only field goal in post-regulation play came on a layup from Matharu in the final minute of play. As UF stumbled to the finish line, the Rebels looked fresher than ever as they closed the game out. 

Davis knocked down a pair of jumpers to start things off for the Rebels. Scott followed her up with a jumper of her own and a pair of free throws. As the dust finally settled in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, Ole Miss had pulled off the double-digit comeback, and Florida had sunk to 4-7 in conference play.

The Gators will be back on the road for their next matchup on Feb. 18. Florida will take on the Kentucky Wildcats at the Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, with tip-off set for noon. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network.

Contact Jack Meyer at 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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