Guard Kiara Smith has not been herself as of late, and it’s hurting Florida’s women’s basketball team.
UF’s primary ball handler averages 12.9 points per game and makes field goals at a 41.6-percent clip, but she hasn’t come close to those numbers in her last two showings.
Smith was held to just four points in each of UF’s double-digit losses to then-No. 24 Tennessee and then-No. 12 Texas A&M on a combined 3-of-15 shooting from the floor.
The Gators will need a bounce-back performance from their floor general on Sunday in order to claim a road victory against No. 21 Arkansas at Bud Walton Arena.
With Smith’s projected backcourt partner -- redshirt junior guard Danielle Rainey -- tearing her ACL in a closed-door scrimmage less than two weeks before the season opener, Smith has elevated her production on the offensive side of the ball.
Her 7.1 points per game in her sophomore season led to a total of 221 points in 31 contests. She’s already surpassed that mark this year, registering 245 points in 19 appearances. The redshirt junior racked up 237 of those points in the first 17 games, but she’s only managed eight in the last two.
Smith’s height put her at a disadvantage in UF’s 78-50 loss against the Volunteers last Thursday. Every player in Tennessee’s starting five measured 6 foot or taller, and it used that length to lock down Smith, who stands at 5-foot-10.
Just two of her 10 field-goal attempts found the bottom of the net, as the Volunteers clogged the paint and forced Smith into a handful of difficult shots.
The same thing happened over the weekend when the Aggies ran away with a 27-point victory over the Gators.
Smith missed four out of her five shots, with her only bucket coming at the 1:11 mark of the third quarter when she knocked down a three-pointer. Her other point came at the free-throw line.
Texas A&M did not allow Smith to attack the basket and score at the rim, one of her calling cards this season. Whenever she approached the paint, the defense collapsed on her to prevent a clear path to the cup.
Sunday’s conference showdown against Arkansas poses a good opportunity for Smith to find that early-season groove that’s been missing from her game over the past week.
The Razorbacks have given up 76.8 points per game on 41.1-percent shooting in five SEC matchups. They’ve also sent their opponents to the free-throw line 96 times in those games.
Florida’s success against Arkansas will depend greatly on Smith’s play, so the Gators will need her to perform at the level they’ve been so used to seeing over the course of the season.
Follow Bryan on Twitter @bryan_2712 and contact him at [email protected].