Lavender Briggs held the ball at the top of the key and stared down Ole Miss guard Jayla Alexander with the game tied 72-72 in the final minute.
Briggs scanned the defense intently in search of a potential game-winning shot, but as soon as the freshman made her way to the basket, the referee blew the whistle.
Foul on Alexander. Two free throws for Briggs.
Rebels coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin threw her hands up in the air and looked at the official in dismay along with the rest of her staff and players. The entire Ole Miss team was left flabbergasted at the referee’s decision to call an apparent phantom foul in such a deciding moment of the game.
Briggs went on to sink both of her free throws, and on the next defensive possession, she came away with a steal to secure a 74-72 victory for the Gators on Thursday night at the O’Connell Center.
“For a freshman to do that, 24 games in, doesn’t bat an eye at anything you ask her to do, it's great to see,” Newbauer said.
Florida made it a point of emphasis to start off quickly against the Rebels after an abysmal offensive display in a loss to Georgia over the weekend, in which the Gators scored just 43 points on 29.5-percent shooting from the field.
UF made nine of its 14 shot attempts in the first quarter, including a perfect 3 of 3 from downtown, to take a 13-point lead heading into the second.
“We wanted to come out fast and we did that,” Newbauer said. “I was worried about coming out too fast and defensively letting up."
The Gators struggled offensively in the second period, however, going just 2 of 14 from the floor and 0 of 6 from beyond the arc.
Ole Miss, on the other hand, finally got things rolling and outscored Florida 18-8 in the period to cut its deficit to just three points at the break.
“It’s what they do,” Newbauer said in regards to the Rebels mounting an early comeback. “Once they settle in, they’re dangerous because they can hit shots.
After 21-point third quarters from both teams, the conference battle was determined in the latter stages of the fourth thanks to Briggs.
She showed her defensive prowess after draining two go-ahead free throws, reading and intercepting a pass in the closing seconds to give Florida its second-straight win.
Despite going just 6 of 20 from the field, Briggs finished with a team-high 23 points thanks to an 11-of-13 showing from the stripe.
“Really proud of (Briggs) for everything she’s taken on her shoulders this year and to keep moving forward, to keep fighting forward, in a day where she didn’t even shoot well,” Newbauer said.
Ole Miss guard Deja Cage also recorded 23 points, but most of her production came from the perimeter. She made five of her 12 three-point attempts in 37 minutes of action.
Florida will need to do a better job of defending the three-point line this weekend against a Missouri team that has registered 180 treys through 24 games, the third-best mark in the SEC.
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