Johnson

Ariel Johnson

Florida guard Ariel Johnson baited Samford’s Charity Brown. The Bulldogs point guard thought she had an easy chest pass to fellow guard Sarah Myers. But she was wrong. 

Johnson pounced on the pass immediately and took off down the court, sprinting past traffic towards the basket. Easy layup, 9-0 Florida. 

Those were two of UF’s 12 points to start the game against Samford in the O’Connell Center on Saturday afternoon. After going on a 12-0 run less than five minutes into the game, Florida held on to control the rest of the afternoon. UF defeated Samford 84-48 to begin the year 3-0, its best start since 2016. 

Samford didn’t score until the 6:06 mark in the first quarter. A combination of energetic defense and efficient shooting gave the Gators a 28-8 lead at the first quarter buzzer.

 Forward Zada Williams, along with guards Johnson and Kiara Smith, each had six points on perfect shooting through the first ten minutes. Florida was sharp, aggressive and executing at a high level. 

“(The fast start) just gives us all confidence,” Smith said. “Each of us just gets more and more hype. The energy was incredible.” 

Early in the second? More buckets. 

Smith pulled up from the right wing on the first possession of the second quarter for three. Swish

On the next possession, Johnson pulled up from the left wing for three more. Swish. 

Two possessions later, UF guard Kristina Moore pulled up beyond the arc from straight on. Swish. Twenty-seven point lead, 37-10 Gators mere minutes into the second quarter. 

UF kept shooting. And the threes kept falling. 

“We did a great job hitting shots early,” coach Cam Newbauer said. “(The players were) shooting the ball with confidence.” 

Guard Lavender Briggs and Smith hit three more from long range to add to the already-daunting scoreline before the first half closed. In total, Florida was 11-15 from three-point land after the first 20 minutes, and that included a perfect 3-3 from Smith, Briggs and Johnson. It was 53-18 after the first two quarters.

The first two games of the season looked nothing like this from a shooting perspective. Against Grambling State, UF shot 21.7 percent from three. Against Longwood, the Gators were 23.1 percent from downtown. 

“It’s just about us getting in the gym on our own outside practice,” Smith said. “We shoot those shots every day so I knew that once we got comfortable enough, shots were going to start falling.” 

Samford center Natalie Armstrong and guard Shauntai Battle hit a few buckets to slightly narrow the gap. But it wasn’t effective. The game was already blown open. 

A possession with just under six minutes to go in the third described the game. Any time the Bulldogs did something good, the Gators did something better. After the mini-run from Samford, Smith stormed down the court on the left side and euro-stepped through two defenders for an easy layup. UF’s offense all day looked fluid, as Samford was constantly on its heels trying to guard the next pass Florida made. The Bulldogs simply looked a step, or three, behind, more times than not. 

“Watching (Samford) on film, we thought they were going to play off of us and almost dare us to shoot, to kind of mess with you” Newbauer said. “So that’s one thing that gave us the opportunity.” 

A quarter later, the buzzer mercifully sounded to stop Samford’s bleeding. UF had tied its record for most threes in a game with 13, on its way to an 84-48 throttling. 

“If you just play with each other and stay within the confines of the game, good things are going to happen for you,” Newbauer said. “To us, that’s just the process.” 

Follow Graham Marsh on Twitter @GrahamMarshUF. Contact him at [email protected]