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Friday, June 14, 2024

Gators women’s basketball shut down by St. John’s in first round of WBIT

Florida finishes the 2023-24 season with a 16-16 record

Gators women's basketball guard Aliyah Matharu shoots a jumper over a St.John's University defender in the team's loss to the Red Storm on Thursday, March 21, 2024.
Gators women's basketball guard Aliyah Matharu shoots a jumper over a St.John's University defender in the team's loss to the Red Storm on Thursday, March 21, 2024.

After a season full of close contests, thrilling finishes and all kinds of action, the Florida Gators women’s basketball team saw its 2023-24 campaign come to a close at the hands of a dominant performance from the St. John’s Red Storm.

In the opening round of the Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament Thursday, the Gators struggled to contain a red-hot Red Storm offense en route to a 79-60 defeat. Florida trailed by double digits for the majority of the evening.

“It’s really important to take responsibility for the results,” UF head coach Kelly Rae Finley said. “You don’t deflect, and you don’t make excuses… We weren’t ready for that step. We just weren’t. As much as we wanted to be and as much as we worked for it.”

Senior guard Aliyah Matharu and freshman guard Laila Reynolds combined for 40 of Florida’s 60 points on the evening. Matharu led the way with 23 points, all of which came on either 3-point shots or free throws, while Reynolds came through with 17 of her own. Senior forward Faith Dut chipped in with six points and a team-high eight rebounds.

St. John’s senior guard Unique Drake blew the Gators out of the water with a career-high 37 points on 13-for-19 shooting. Drake’s astonishing performance served as the highlight of an action-packed night for the Red Storm’s offense, which combined for over 60 percent from the field.

Coming off of nearly two weeks away from the hardwood, the Gators looked somewhat rusty coming out of the gates. Despite a 10-point opening quarter from Reynolds, Florida struggled to find an offensive rhythm, coughing up three turnovers in the first five minutes of the evening.

Meanwhile, St. John’s immediately clicked on all cylinders. The Red Storm opened up the game shooting 10-for-12 from the field, building their lead over the Gators to as many as 10 points in the period. 

However, a physical finish at the rack from Reynolds and a last-second 3-ball from Matharu cut Florida’s deficit to 23-18 by the end of the first quarter.

Not to be outdone, St. John’s opened up the second quarter on an 11-2 run to go back up by double digits. Florida shot 1-for-8 to start off the period, allowing the Red Storm to take off running and never look back.

St. John’s closed out the second quarter on a 10-2 run, leading by as many as 20 in the period. By the end of the first half, Florida trailed by a 44-29 margin.

The Gators continued scrambling to find their footing offensively throughout the second half, but they couldn’t catch any breaks from a relentless Red Storm squad. After Matharu drilled a 3-ball to open up the third quarter, Florida went completely cold offensively, only recording nine total points in the period.

Meanwhile, St. John’s slowly started to ease its foot off the gas as the second half went on. Even as they reeled back on their offensive aggressiveness, the Red Storm continued to control nearly every aspect of this ballgame. By the end of the third quarter, Florida’s deficit had grown to 59-38.

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As the clock winded down in the final 10 minutes of play, both squads continued fighting up until the very end. The Gators did what they could to chip away at their deficit, but the Red Storm refused to let up, coasting to the final buzzer with a 19-point victory.

With its loss to St. John’s now in the books, UF’s season came to an end Thursday, finishing with a record of 16-16.

While Finley’s squad certainly endured its fair share of highs and lows, she made two things abundantly clear in her postgame remarks: she could not be prouder of her team, and the future remains bright for Florida basketball.

“It’s year two of our program, and when we find our success moving forward next year… [The seniors] have laid the foundation for us to go forward and find some really special success,” Finley said. “Anybody who is paying attention should see really, really bright things in our future. But anything great just takes time.”

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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