The performance of Florida’s women’s basketball team midway through the season has gradually turned some heads.
UF currently sits at 10-5, markedly better than the 8-23 record it finished with last season.
Losing two consecutive games to then-No. 18 Indiana and then-No. 12 Florida State at the O’Connell Center in late November was not that surprising, especially considering the strength of the opponents and the fact that the defeats came less than a month into the campaign.
The Gators responded by winning six out of their next nine contests. However, their three losses came away from home, including a 93-47 smacking against then-No. 15 Mississippi State in the conference opener.
“Our first SEC game was a learning experience,” redshirt junior guard Kiara Smith said. “After that, we came to practice and talked about exactly what we needed to do, how we needed to work on the little things.”
After beating Vanderbilt in the O’Dome on Sunday, Florida has the chance to correct its problems Thursday night. The Gators travel to Alabama to take on Auburn, and with a victory, they will begin conference play 2-1 for the first time since the 2015-16 season.
History is not on UF’s side, though.
Florida has dropped three straight meetings against the Tigers and hasn’t prevailed at Auburn Arena in five years.
But AU has lost its last two games by double digits, including a 22-point drubbing at the hands of the Commodores, who the Gators beat by eight on Sunday.
Coach Cam Newbauer has not been afraid to go with youth in his starting five, and he has been rewarded for it.
In a team led by redshirt senior forward Zada Williams and Smith, freshman guard Lavender Briggs has not been shy about shooting the ball.
Briggs leads the team in points (14.3 per game), field goals made (81) and three-point percentage (34.9). And her 19 points against Vandy marked her 13th-consecutive game with double-digit points (the longest streak by any Florida player since 2005).
The Provo, Utah, native has been active on defense as well.
Briggs’ 17 steals are tied for a team-high with Smith, while her six blocks rank second -- something unexpected from a 6-foot-1 guard.
Freshman guard Nina Rickards has made an impact as of late, too.
She has started the last six games after coming off the bench for the first nine. Newbauer inserted Rickards into the starting lineup following a dreadful two-point outing from sophomore guard Ariel Johnson in Florida’s 76-66 loss against Kansas on Dec. 8.
Rickards hasn’t found her shooting touch, though, accumulating just 12 points combined through those six games. But she has a knack for being in the right place at the right time on the glass, as Rickards has snagged four or more rebounds in half of her starts.
The 5-foot-9 guard has been a key contributor on the glass for Florida -- a team that holds a 9-1 record when outrebounding opponents. So, Rickards may need to put in another savvy shift in the rebounding department in order for the Gators to earn their second victory in conference play on Thursday.
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