As the final seconds ticked away in the third quarter, Florida clung to a five-point lead. With Georgia dribbling out the clock for the final shot of the period, UF guard Funda Nakkasoglu and forward Haley Lorenzen double-teamed Georgia’s Que Morrison and forced a turnover. Nakkasoglu grabbed the loose ball, raced down the court and banked in a buzzer-beating layup.
However, big games from Nakkasoglu and forward Paulina Hersler weren’t enough on Sunday afternoon as the Gators (10-12, 2-7 SEC) fell to No. 21 Georgia 66-57 at the O’Connell Center on Sunday.
Nakkasoglu picked up right where she left off after Thursday night’s loss to No. 2 Mississippi State, where she contributed 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field. Against Georgia, the junior transfer shot 5 of 13 from the field and made 7-of-10 free-throw attempts, finishing the game with 18 points.
Hersler started the game strong, hitting her first three attempts from the field. The 6-foot-3 senior from Sweden tied her season high with 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
After the game, Hersler was a little surprised by her own performance.
“It’s something you don’t really predict,” she said. “You’re trying to take it possession by possession. I think the guards did a really, really good job of feeding us in the post.”
The Gators, normally a team that isn’t afraid to shoot from the perimeter, took a conservative approach against the Bulldogs with a season-low 16 three-point attempts, making only two of them.
“They guard you,” Florida coach Cameron Newbauer said. “They close out tight. That’s what they do. They’re a great defensive team. That’s their M.O.”
Florida came out strong against its SEC foe, quickly jumping out to a 13-6 lead after a Nakkasoglu step-back jumper. Nakkasoglu and Hersler combined for all of UF’s 14 first-quarter points.
In the second quarter, the theme turned to defense. The Gators forced Georgia (19-2, 7-1 SEC) into contested shots, with the Bulldogs making just two of their 14 attempts from the field for five points in the frame.
After a back-and-forth third quarter, Florida took a seven-point lead into the fourth thanks to Nakkasoglu’s buzzer-beater.
However, Georgia used a huge performance from junior forward Caliya Robinson to propel itself to 31 fourth-quarter points. Robinson went 5 of 8 from the field and knocked home two clutch free throws to put the game away late. She finished the afternoon with 22 points on 10-of-16 shooting.
“There’s a lot of good forwards in this league,” Hersler said. “It’s just a matter of getting used to it.”
The Gators get the week off after playing every Sunday and Thursday since New Year’s Eve before returning to action against Missouri on Monday night in Columbia. Newbauer said the bye week couldn’t come at a better time.
“We’ve been banged up and it’s been extended minutes for our starters,” Newbauer said. “I know they’re very excited just to have a handful of days off this week and recoup, focus on some academics and just get our bodies back to fresh.”
Follow Morgan McMullen on Twitter @MorganMcMuffin and contact him at [email protected].