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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Aliyah Matharu: All bark and all bite for the Gators

The senior floor general made plenty of noise in her first season as a Gator

Senior guard Aliyah Matharu dribbles the ball on the Gators’ home court in Florida’s 77-74 loss against the Auburn Tigers, March 3, 2024.
Senior guard Aliyah Matharu dribbles the ball on the Gators’ home court in Florida’s 77-74 loss against the Auburn Tigers, March 3, 2024.

In the Florida Gators women’s basketball team’s “Unlaced” documentary series, senior guard Aliyah Matharu has a mindset that she feels sets her apart from the rest of the pack: she sees herself as a dog, and anyone standing in her way is dog food.

“My mindset, day in and day out, is to give 110 [percent],” Matharu said. “Every day, I’m going to go hard as best as I can, no matter the result. I’m locked in on myself, my team and what I can do to make us better.”

After initially starting her collegiate career with a pair of stints at Mississippi State and Texas, Matharu transferred to UF in 2022. Although she had to wait a year to take the court for the Gators due to NCAA transfer rules, Matharu could already tell she found her home.

“[Florida] felt like a really good place to be,” Matharu said. “They wanted to do something different, and I wanted to experience something different.”

Upon hitting the hardwood for the first time this season, Matharu immediately made her presence felt. In the 2023-24 regular season, she led the Gators with 18.2 points, 2.5 assists and 2.8 steals per game. 

Matharu’s impact on Florida off the court has been just as crucial as her impact on the court. Her vocal style of play and confident attitude have been on full display throughout the season as she continues to prove herself as a leader for this Gators squad.

“We all love each other, but at the end of the day, we all have one goal in mind: we all want to win,” Matharu said. “Sometimes, we butt heads, but it’s just the competitiveness in us because we want the best for the team.”

She also credits her relationship with Gators head coach Kelly Rae Finley as a factor in her success with the team. Matharu highlighted how Finley communicates differently with each player, and for her, Finley pushes her even more than her peers.

“She coaches me a little bit harder than others, but it’s only because she knows that I can handle it, and she wants more from me,” Matharu said. “I would say that our relationship is like… a mentor and a kid. She over-explains things, which is good for me. Sometimes, you need someone to sit down and talk to you and tell you more than just, ‘This is how you do that.’”

The respect between Florida’s floor general and head coach is certainly mutual —  Finley praised Matharu for how far she’s come in the last four months.

“She’s been really diligent and determined to continue improving her game,” Finley said. “Myself, as a coach, I’m really proud of her. I think our team is proud of her. She’s growing a lot.”

Matharu’s teammates have also noted her efforts to shape the culture in the Gators locker room this past season. Senior guard Zippy Broughton said Matharu has gelled extremely well with Florida’s backcourt tandem this year.

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“We play off of each other really well,” Broughton said. “We complement each other with our energy. We complement each other with how we play. If there’s something she’s lacking, I pick it up and vice versa.”

In Florida’s conference play schedule this season, Matharu has combined with fellow senior guard Leilani Correa to form one of the most dangerous one-two punches in the SEC. The Gators backcourt duo has a combined 39.0 points per game since the start of 2024.

Matharu has also remained extremely active on both ends of the floor in SEC play. In addition to her role commandeering the Gators’ offense, she tallied 3.1 steals per game as a perimeter defensive workhorse.

She endured her fair share of struggles from the field, shooting below 35% in five of Florida’s 16 conference matchups. But the senior never allowed these rough patches to bring her down. She always found a way to keep a level head and push forward.

“I know that I’m going to miss shots, and I know that I’m not going to get every rebound, but at the end of the day, I don’t focus on what I can’t do and what I can’t control,” Matharu said. “I try to stay within myself. I never try to get too high or too low.”

As of now, the Florida floor general plans to return to Gainesville for one final season with the Gators. But whatever the road may bring for Matharu and her squad, she will do whatever it takes to emerge in glory.

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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