Florida’s women’s basketball team was undefeated heading into Friday’s battle against No. 18 Indiana. Up to that point, the Gators had defeated four unranked opponents by an average margin of victory of 18.5 points per game.
The Hoosiers, however, were a much more difficult test for UF, especially with starting shooting guard Lavender Briggs out of the lineup with a high ankle sprain.
As Briggs watched from the bench — wearing a protective boot on her injured foot — Indiana overpowered Florida 73-49 at the O’Connell Center.
“When you have a young bunch, there’s a lot of different implications that could affect your team,” coach Cam Newbauer said about playing without Briggs. “It’s part of the game, and you just have to go play.”
Guard Ariel Johnson stepped up on the offensive side of the ball with the team’s second-leading scorer out. The sophomore finished with 10 points behind 4-of-12 shooting from the field while logging a career-high 35 minutes.
The Tracy, California, native has come on as of late after scoring a combined five points on 7.1 percent (1-of-14) shooting through the team’s first two games. But Johnson has recorded double-digit points in each of her last three outings.
“I wouldn’t say it was a slow start, she was trying to figure out the mindset of how to perform knowing that she may have to do a little more here and there,” Newbauer said. “As a sophomore and never being in that role, for her to figure that out after two games and having the last three being what they are, it’s just a huge sign of maturity for such a young person that kind of got thrown into that because of an injury.”
Things won’t get any easier for the Gators, as 12th-ranked Florida State comes to Gainesville for the Sunshine Showdown.
The Seminoles are in the midst of a five-game winning streak because of a high-octane offense that runs through three players: guards Nausia Woolfolk and Nicki Ekhomu and forward Kiah Gillespie. Woolfolk averages a team-high 16 points per game, with Ekhomu and Gillespie contributing 15.6 and 13.2 points per game, respectively.
The trio accounts for 55 percent (44.8 points per game) of the team’s scoring offense, which is ranked 29th in the nation with 81.4 points per contest.
UF’s last triumph over a top-25 team came in 2016 when it knocked off No. 12 Texas A&M 83-81 at the O’Dome. So Florida will need good showings from Johnson and its defense if it wants to take down a surging FSU.
Follow Bryan Matamoros on Twitter @bryan_2712. Contact him at [email protected]