Florida’s women’s basketball team has struggled this season against top opponents. Through six matchups against ranked teams this year, the Gators have lost them all, and that includes their last four contests. Fortunately for coach Cam Newbauer’s squad, its next game comes against unranked LSU on Thursday at the O’Connell Center. For this game, UF will continue to rely on its young players.
Florida leads the conference in total minutes played (2,644) by underclassmen.
All of the main contributors for this team, other than guard Kiara Smith and forward Zada Williams, are underclassmen. The inexperience of this team has been evident at times, such as the 93-47 embarrassment against Mississippi State, which is now the No. 9 team in the country.
“When you’ve got freshman guards playing as many minutes as they are, there’s experiences they have to grow through and learn from,” Newbauer said.
However, even with so much contribution coming from freshmen and sophomores, this team is unquestionably better than it was a season ago. Last season’s team only won eight games all year, this team already has more than that with 11, and it has nine more games to go.
And of those nine games, most of them present an easier opponent than any of the previous four, as all were ranked in the top 25. So, with more winnable games ahead, it is an excellent opportunity for growth in the young players that Newbauer already relies on. Here are three essential ones:
The freshman guard is not only the best underclassman for UF, but arguably the best player on the entire team. At 13.8 points per game, she leads the team in scoring and has scored in double figures in 17 of her 19 contests this year. Besides the first win of the season against Grambling State, the Gators have not won another game this year without Briggs scoring 10 or more points.
Sophomore guard/forward Ariel Johnson’s season has been up and down. When she is up, typically so is Florida, and vice versa. In the Mississippi State game, the Gators’ worst loss of the season, Johnson had zero points. But her highest scoring game of the year, where she had 16 points against Davidson, helped UF narrowly win 55-50. Her second-highest scoring game of the season was against Samford, where her 15 points helped Florida dismantle the Bulldogs 84-48.
Like Johnson, freshman guard Nina Rickards has had an inconsistent season. But her versatility helps the Gators tremendously when she plays well. At only 5-foot-9, Rickards hauled in 12 rebounds against Longwood. She also had five assists against Xavier and 13 points against Auburn. All three of those games resulted in Florida wins, with Longwood and Auburn both coming by double digits.
The youth is the backbone of this group, and that won’t change against LSU.
Follow Graham on Twitter @GrahamMarshUF and contact him at [email protected].