Nina Rickards

Freshman guard Nina Rickards has struggled to find the bottom of the net since coach Cam Newbauer inserted her into the starting lineup in mid-December.

She managed just 12 points combined in her six starts on 5-of-29 shooting from the field heading into Thursday night’s game against Auburn.

But Rickards nearly tripled her scoring average against the Tigers, as the freshman dropped 13 points to help the Gators come away with an 83-63 victory over Auburn in Alabama.

After a scoreless performance from Rickards against Vanderbilt over the weekend, UF made it a priority to get her the ball early and often.

The Queens, New York, native was averaging just 4.4 points per game this season before Florida’s bout against AU, yet she surpassed that total in the opening minutes of the contest. Rickards scored the Gators’ first five points of the night and finished the first quarter with eight points on 3-of-4 shooting from the floor, including a 2-of-3 effort from downtown.

Besides Rickards, UF (11-5, 2-1 SEC) had four other players score in double figures.

Freshman guard Lavender Briggs paced the team with 19 points, extending her streak of double-digit games to 14, the most by any UF player since the 2001-02 season.

Her backcourt partner, redshirt junior guard Kiara Smith, chipped in with 15 points in 37 minutes of action.

Both Briggs and Smith have made things difficult for opponents this year, which was evident in Thursday night’s conference showdown. The two shot a combined 13 of 20 from the field, including a 4-of-8 showing from behind the arc against Auburn.

Sophomore guards Kristina Moore and Ariel Johnson sparked the offense as well with 12 and 10 points, respectively.

The Tigers (6-8, 0-3 SEC) deployed a zone defense at the start of the game in an effort to fluster the Gators, but it backfired.

Florida counteracted by pushing the tempo in transition, which prevented Auburn from settling into its halfcourt defense. This led to 11 fastbreak points for UF by the end of the first half compared to AU’s zero.

“We did a good job of being aggressive in the first half and shot it really really well,” Newbauer said in a release. “It was crazy, too, because we had five offensive rebounds on only seven missed shots.”

Auburn wasn’t much better offensively.

It made just 24 of its 61 field goal attempts and went 7 of 29 from the three-point line against a suffocating Florida defense that has now held 11 of their 16 opponents below their scoring average. Auburn averaged 70.6 points per game before Thursday night but was held to just 63 by UF.

Guard Brooke Moore and forward Unique Thompson led the Tigers with 14 and 10 points, respectively, in the loss.

With this victory, the Gators are now 2-1 in conference play for the first time since the 2015-16 campaign.

“We are just playing one possession at a time and not really thinking about anything other than trying to be the best version of ourselves,” Newbauer said. “We are just trying to compete and be the best team we can, day in and day out.”

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