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Friday, April 12, 2024

Florida’s comeback effort against Alabama falls short in final minutes

The Gators have lost four of their last five games with the SEC Tournament now less than a week away

Senior guard Leilani Correa holds possession against a Razorback defender during the Gators' 85-81 win over Arkansas, Thursday, February 8.
Senior guard Leilani Correa holds possession against a Razorback defender during the Gators' 85-81 win over Arkansas, Thursday, February 8.

With just 11 seconds left in their matchup with the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Florida Gators women’s basketball team only needed one shot to stay alive. As the ball left junior guard Alberte Rimdal’s hands, the fans at Coleman Coliseum went dead silent. But the shot was no good. The Alabama crowd went wild, and the Gators had been crushed in another heartbreaking SEC loss.

The Gators (14-13, 5-10 SEC) dropped a 76-73 loss to the Crimson Tide (22-8, 9-6 SEC) on Thursday evening. After trailing for the vast majority of the ball game, Florida nearly strung together a last-second comeback in the fourth quarter, but to no avail. 

Senior guards Leilani Correa and Aliyah Matharu did everything in their power to keep the Gators afloat. Correa finished with 22 points while shooting 8-for-15 on the night, while Matharu came through with 16 points and three steals of her own. 

Matharu also fouled out with nine minutes to go in the fight, all but sealing Florida’s fate as the team struggled to keep up without its floor general to guide them.

Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide’s well-balanced offensive attack powered them to the win. Four Alabama players finished the game scoring in double-digits. Junior guard Sarah Ashlee Barker led the way for her squad with 18 points.

The Gators made it clear from the get-go that they were not going down without a fight. Alabama pulled out to a nine-point lead early on in the evening, but Florida trimmed its deficit right back down to four points within the first 70 seconds of the second quarter.

But despite UF’s best efforts, the Crimson Tide held on to their lead for the rest of the half. Junior guard Aaliyah Nye and senior center JeAnna Cunningham combined for 11 of Alabama’s 17 points in the second quarter, as its squad pulled ahead to a 42-30 lead by the end of the first half.

Matharu came back out of the halftime break with a vengeance. In the third quarter, she tallied up eight points and a steal. However, she also picked up three fouls along the way. Matharu went on to pick up her fourth and fifth fouls within the opening minute of the fourth quarter, forcing her to sit out the remainder of the game.

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With Florida’s floor general now down for the count, the rest of the team had to find a way to step up in her absence. The Gators broke out on a 10-4 run immediately after Matharu fouled out, cutting their deficit to 67-62 with just over five minutes to go in the game.

Coming out of the break, Florida made one final surge towards the finish line. After Correa went 1-for-2 at the free throw line and Cunningham cruised in for a layup for the Crimson Tide, UF senior guard Zippy Broughton drained a three-pointer to make it a one-score game.

Less than two minutes later, Broughton came back down the court and knocked down another 3-ball. Suddenly, the Gators had clawed their way back into this match, and the score now sat at 69-69 with 2:37 remaining on the clock.

After the Crimson Tide went 1-for-2 at the charity stripe in their next possession, junior guard Alberte Rimdal drilled a jumper to give Florida its first lead since the first quarter. Not to be outdone, Nye drove through the paint and laid in a quick basket to snatch the lead right back out of the Gators’ hands.

On Florida’s subsequent possession, Broughton coughed up a costly turnover to give Alabama the ball back with just 1:10 remaining. Barker made her way through the paint for a layup to give the Crimson Tide a 74-71 lead with just 44 seconds to go. 

Correa was immediately fouled on the next play and knocked down a pair of free throws to narrow Florida’s deficit back down to one point. Nye responded with two free throws of her own to go back up by three points with 11 seconds left. 

If the Gators wanted to stay alive in this ballgame, it was now or never. Rimdal launched a three as the clock hit all zeroes. No good. As the ball came back down into the hands of Barker, Florida’s remaining hope for a last-second comeback vanished.

The Gators will wrap up their regular season campaign on March 3 against the Auburn Tigers. Florida’s senior day will tip off at noon in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

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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