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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Florida’s senior day matchup against Auburn ends in heartbreak

The Gators finish the 2023-24 season with a 14-14 overall record and 5-11 SEC record

Senior Zippy Broughton attempts a shot against an Auburn defender in the Gators' 77-74 loss against the Tigers, Sunday, March 3, 2024.
Senior Zippy Broughton attempts a shot against an Auburn defender in the Gators' 77-74 loss against the Tigers, Sunday, March 3, 2024.

The entire crowd at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center was on its feet. In the final game of the regular season, the Florida Gators women’s basketball team fought tooth and nail with the Auburn Tigers all afternoon long. Florida now trailed by just two points with 10 seconds on the clock.

Senior guard Aliyah Matharu got the ball at the top of the key and went for the kill shot right away. She bruised her way past defender after defender as she drove to the hoop, eventually making hard contact with an Auburn defender that sent both players tumbling to the floor.

As the whistle blew, the crowd went wild. But soon, the cheers from Gator fans in attendance turned into boos as Matharu was called for an offensive foul. In yet another close contest to wrap up its regular season campaign, Florida came up just short in the final seconds of play en route to another gut-wrenching loss.

The Tigers (19-10, 8-8 SEC) defeated the Gators (14-14, 5-11 SEC) 77-74 Sunday afternoon in Florida’s final matchup before the 2024 SEC Tournament.

“We have to be diligent and control what we can control,” UF head coach Kelly Rae Finley. “We need to put ourselves in a position, which we did, to win the game… I was really proud of our team for the resolve and the resiliency it took to put ourselves in that position.”

Florida senior guards Aliyah Matharu and Leilani Correa combined for 45 of Florida’s 74 points on the day. Correa secured a double-double with a team-high 23 points and 10 rebounds, while Matharu came away with 22 points and four steals. 

For the Tigers, junior guard Mar’shaun Bostic nearly tallied a near double-double of her own with 18 points and nine assists. Senior guard Honesty Scott-Grayson chipped in with 16 points and five rebounds of her own.

The Gators immediately got to smothering the Tigers on the defensive end. Auburn coughed up a pair of turnovers in its first three possessions, allowing Florida to jump out to an early 6-3 lead. Not to be outdone, the Tigers went on a quick 6-2 run to briefly reclaim the lead, but the Gators got their groove back soon enough. 

Correa cruised through the paint and absorbed hard contact at the hoop for an easy and-1 basket. One play later, Matharu stripped the ball from junior forward McKenna Eddings and found senior forward Faith Dut on the fast break for another quick bucket.

After a brief offensive stalemate late in the first quarter, sophomore guard Eriny Kindred got the Gators back on track with another and-1 finish. Rimdal followed up with a layup in the final seconds of the period to extend Florida’s lead to 22-15.

In the second quarter, however, the Tigers came back out with a vengeance. After starting the period on a 9-2 run, Auburn knocked down five consecutive field goals to take a four-point lead. 

Meanwhile, the Gators’ offense had suddenly gone cold. Florida shot 3-for-10 from the field in the quarter while coughing up six turnovers. 

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The team eventually started to show signs of life as the first half came to a close, with a slick finish from Dut in the final seconds of the half eliciting plenty of cheers from the Exactech Arena crowd. Nonetheless, the Tigers still held onto a 37-34 lead at the halftime break.

With Florida’s backs now against the wall, Matharu put on her chef’s hat and got to cooking in the third quarter. The UF floor general tallied 11 points and two steals in the period, helping to eventually cut her squad’s deficit down to just one point.

However, the Tigers came right back with another 16-7 run to tighten their grasp on the ballgame. By the end of the third quarter, Auburn’s lead had grown to 64-54.

Down but not out, the Gators responded with a 6-0 run of their own to lead off the fourth quarter. Auburn coughed up four consecutive turnovers on its first four possessions, allowing Florida to cut the deficit back down to 64-60. 

The Tigers finally broke out of their offensive slump following an intentional foul from Kindred. But after sophomore guard Sydney Show knocked down a pair of free throws for Auburn’s first points of the quarter, the Gators got right back to work. 

With Auburn maintaining possession after the free throws, Dut met junior forward Celia Sumbane at the rim for a ferocious block. Matharu scooped up the rebound and found Correa in transition, who sliced through the Auburn defense for another and-1 lay-in. 

After Bostic knocked down another shot to bring Auburn’s lead back up to five, Correa drew the foul on the other end and knocked down two more free throws for the Gators. Matharu subsequently came away with another steal and was fouled in the ensuing tussle. She proceeded to drill two more free throws for Florida to cut the deficit back down to 70-69.

As the game now hung in the balance, the Tigers finally put their foot down. Freshman center Savannah Scott powered her way through the paint for the lay-in. On the following possession, Eddings snatched the ball out of Matharu’s hands and found Scott-Grayson on the fast break to make it a two-score game.

Junior guard Jerriah Warren quickly drove in for a layup for Florida on the other end. Scott-Grayson was subsequently fouled on the next possession; the Auburn senior guard went 1-for-2 from the charity stripe, making it a four-point ballgame.

Now in do-or-die mode, Matharu slashed her way to the hoop and flicked up a reverse lay-in as she fell to the ground. As the whistle blew, her shot sailed through the hoop, and the Exactech Arena crowd roared in excitement. Matharu converted on the and-1, and suddenly Florida had hope.

As soon as Auburn inbounded the ball on its next possession, UF senior guard Zippy Broughton intentionally fouled Bostic. The Tigers guard drilled the first free throw, but her second attempt clanged off the rim. Broughton secured the rebound, allowing Finley to immediately call a timeout. 

With just 10.4 seconds left on the clock, Florida had one last chance to stay alive. Matharu drove straight into the paint, looking to draw another and-1 call. But instead, the referees whistled her for an offensive foul, giving the ball right back to Auburn.

Scott-Grayson went right back to the free throw line for the Tigers. Once again, shot no. 1 fell through the net, but the second attempt bounced off the rim and landed in the hands of Broughton. Florida had no timeouts remaining, forcing her to hurry back down the court and launch one final hail mary attempt. 

But as Broughton lifted up a last-second 3 from the logo, Scott-Grayson snuck up behind her and swatted her shot into the stands. The Tigers bench erupted in cheers, while the Gators fans in attendance trickled out of the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in shock.

“[On] that last play, they took us out of catching the ball exactly where we wanted to catch it — players make plays,” Finley said.

With their regular season campaign now officially in the books, UF will head to Greenville, South Carolina, as they prepare for this year’s SEC Tournament. The Gators will take to the hardwood on March 6, with their opponent and tip-off time still to be determined.

“March is the start of the third season, and anything is possible,” Finley said. “I love the team that we have… We’re building, and I think the future is extremely bright.”

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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