Susi Espinoza

Florida coach Becky Burleigh returned to the sidelines Friday night following her mandatory quarantine due to COVID-19 contact tracing. Kentucky, meanwhile, was forced to play without coach Ian Carry after he tested positive for the virus.

The Gators seemed lost without Burleigh’s guidance during her two-game absence, falling to then-No. 11 South Carolina and Tennessee. Her comeback yielded the same results, however, as UF was beaten 3-1 by the Wildcats at the Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex in Lexington, Kentucky.

Conceding a goal in the early stages of a game has become routine for Florida this season, but its defense did well to stymie UK’s attack in the first half — until the 43rd minute.

Defender Sydney Urban’s handball in the box during a scrum in front of UF’s goal earned Kentucky a penalty kick, which forward Jordyn Rhodes slotted home comfortably to give her team a 1-0 lead at the break.

The Gators showed promise in the opening frame despite the scoreline after 45 minutes. Florida registered six shots, with four of those hitting the target. Kentucky also shot the ball six times, but its only shot on goal came on the aforementioned penalty kick.

UF’s persistence finally paid off in the second half thanks to midfielder Parker Roberts, who chose the perfect time to score her first goal of the season.

In the 56th minute, the redshirt senior stole the ball from UK’s Emily Hähnel to regain possession in the opposition’s half. Instead of looking for one of her teammates to pass to, Roberts decided to take matters into her own hands, unleashing a 25-yard shot that dipped just under the crossbar to tie the game at 1-1.

The stalemate lasted just 12 minutes, however, as Kentucky forward Hannah Richardson’s shot rolled past the outstretched arms of Florida keeper Susi Espinoza and nestled into the bottom-left corner of the net.

Any hopes of a Florida equalizer were shattered in the 80th minute by UK’s tandem up top in Richardson and Rhodes.

Richardson stole an errant pass in UF’s half of the field, took on two defenders, cut right, then left and finally attempted a shot once she created enough separation. Although Espinoza came off her line to close Richardson down and make the crucial stop, the rebound went right back to Kentucky’s forward, who found Rhodes for the tap-in.

The Gators have now lost five consecutive games for the first time in program history, but they will have a chance to end that streak in the regular-season finale against Missouri on Sunday.

Contact Bryan Matamoros at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @bryan_2712.

Bryan Matamoros is a sports writer for The Alligator. He has previously covered UF men's and women's golf, women's lacrosse and women's soccer. Now, he is on the Florida baseball and women's basketball beats.