Kiara Smith

Kiara Smith

Florida’s women’s basketball team had not played on its home court for 14 days before Thursday night’s conference showdown with LSU.

Because the Gators held a 7-4 record in the friendly confines of the O’Connell Center compared to a 4-4 one away from it, the matchup had legitimate upset potential for UF.

Though unranked, the Tigers received two votes in the latest edition of the AP Top 25 Poll, which meant UF had an opportunity to break its habit of succumbing to teams that — on paper — are better.

Playing at home, however, did not put Florida over the top, as LSU defeated the Gators 77-68. UF has now lost five consecutive games after 11-5.

“We played well at home, for the most part, until the last quarter,” coach Cam Newbauer said. “We have to keep fighting and trying to get better. I thought we grew tonight in some areas, but SEC basketball is an all-the-time thing.”

UF and LSU’s three-point shooting was the difference in Thursday’s contest.

The Gators went just five of 16 from behind the arc, while the Tigers made eight of their 10 shots from downtown.

LSU (15-5, 5-3 SEC) had averaged only two three-pointers per game, so UF focused more on protecting the paint. With Florida (11-10, 2-6 SEC) clogging the lane to prevent easy layups, LSU’s sharpshooters camped out near the perimeter with productive results.

Tigers guard Jaelyn Richard-Harris exploited UF’s defensive game plan for 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the floor, including a perfect 4 of 4 from the three-point line. And guard Khayla Pointer led the way with 24 points thanks to an 8-of-16 effort from the field.

Richard-Harris’ stellar showing from deep came as a surprise to the Gators, given the fact that she had made only five treys combined this season in the 19 games prior.

“She did something special tonight,” Newbauer said. “Anytime you bank a three, you’re going to feel pretty good.”

Guard Lavender Briggs posted 16 points and six rebounds for the Gators, both of which were team-highs. Her backcourt partner, Kiara Smith, was close behind with 14 points.

Smith was on the court for every second of the contest for the third time this year, adding four rebounds and a game-high six assists.

Next on the schedule for the reeling Gators is a rematch with No. 13 Kentucky, a team they lost to by double digits on Jan. 12.

“It’s been a really tough stretch for us,” Newbauer said. “We’ve played all the top teams in our league outside of No. 1 South Carolina, and it doesn’t get any easier.”

Follow Bryan on Twitter @bryan_2712 and contact him at [email protected].

Bryan Matamoros is a sports writer for The Alligator. He has previously covered UF men's and women's golf, women's lacrosse and women's soccer. Now, he is on the Florida baseball and women's basketball beats.