One half was not like the other.
In Florida’s game against the No. 13 Wildcats on Sunday in Lexington, Kentucky, the Gators started slowly. They were down 10 at halftime and trailed by as many as 14. But a commanding third quarter, followed by an even more dominant fourth, earned UF its first top-25 win since 2016 by a score of 70-62.
“After the last five games against such tough opponents and another one tonight, I learned a lot about our group,” coach Cam Newbauer said in a release.
It was clear that Kentucky missed its star player, guard Rhyne Howard. She fractured her finger in UK’s last contest against Auburn, and as a result was inactive against the Gators.
The most apparent reason for Florida’s struggles early was freshman guard Lavender Briggs. The star from Provo, Utah, seemed to be struggling mightily against the Wildcats for the second time in a row. In the first meeting between these teams, she had just two points, despite averaging over 13 points a game. On Sunday, Briggs had zero points in the first half.
But the second half was entirely different for the team’s leading scorer. She finished with 18 points, all coming in the latter 20 minutes of action. That included a three-pointer in the fourth that gave the Gators their first lead since the first quarter.
Point guard Kiara Smith was another player who struggled early, but thrived late. Typically the architect of Florida’s offense, the senior guard got into early foul trouble, with two in the first quarter and then another in the second.
But a foul-free second half allowed her to influence the game late. Her eight points, but more importantly her five assists, helped spark the late surge that put UF ahead.
Another bright spot for the Gators was freshman guard Brylee Bartram. She played a more significant role than usual due to Smith’s foul trouble and Newbauer’s desire for more shooting on the floor. She was 3 of 7 from beyond the arc for nine points.
Her contribution, along with Briggs finding her groove in the second half, kept the Gators close as the game wore on. The Wildcats led by as many as 14, but a 24-17 third quarter in favor of the orange and blue shrunk the lead to just one point on two separate occasions.
And in the fourth, everything came together for Florida. It seemed that Briggs’ resurgence jolted everyone as well, as the Gators won the fourth quarter by eleven to snag the biggest program win in Newbauer’s time as head coach.
“I thought we did a great job of handling their pressure with poise and strength,” Newbauer said. “That was a lot of fun, I’m so proud of our kids.”
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