Delicia Washington had the ball in her hands with 15 seconds left and the game tied at 56. She calmly dribbled to the top of the key with the crowd buzzing over Florida’s late run and sized up Missouri guard Amber Smith.
The South Carolina Gamecocks led from tip-off to the final whistle at the Colonial Life Aren…
A hesitation move and a dash to her right allowed her to blow by the defender. She reached the rim and leaped as three Missouri Tigers jumped along with her to try and swat the ball away. She double-clutched and banked the shot off the glass and in with 2.2 seconds left to give Florida its first lead since 8:14 in the first quarter.
The crowd at the O’Connell Center exploded as soon as the ball fell through the netting, while Washington turned from cool and calm to wildly jumping and pumping her fists into the air.
“Anybody could have been in that spot,” Washington said after the game. “I believe any one of my teammates could have been able to finish that layup with that many seconds on the clock. …But I guess it was just my turn to step up to get to the rim and put that score on that board.”
Florida’s 10-0 run in the final 2:47 minutes of play propelled the Gators past Missouri for the first time in program history. The 58-56 victory on Sunday also marked the first SEC win of the season and fifth win at home.
It seemed like it wouldn’t happen early on.
Florida (5-12, 1-3 SEC) had trouble getting anything going in the first half. It seemed whenever the Gators got any momentum, Missouri (14-4, 3-1 SEC) immediately stole it back.
In the second quarter, Washington darted past her defender and dished it to Zada Williams for an easy layup to draw within two points. With the crowd still cheering from the play, Missouri guard Haley Troup made a three-pointer that spawned a 7-0 run to deflate UF’s momentum.
The Gators’ full-court press, which temporarily hindered the Tigers’ offense, began to break down at the end of the half as Missouri made five of its last six shots and went into halftime with a nine-point lead.
The Tigers began the third quarter making three of their first four three-pointers and, at one point, led by as many as 14 points. But guard Danielle Rainey’s career day from beyond the arc kept the Gators in the game.
“My teammates made the screens and a lot of extra passes,” Rainey said. “Without those little things, I wouldn’t have had (this performance).”
The redshirt sophomore finished with a career-high 16 points off five three-pointers, and her teammates began to follow suit.
UF became much more aggressive in the fourth quarter, turning turnovers at one end into points at the other. With 1:29 left in the contest, guard Ariel Johnson made a clutch steal and launched a full-court pass to Washington for the easy layup to make it a two-point game. Then, guard Kiara Smith drew a foul on the next possession and made both free throws to tie the game at 56.
Washington followed her layup to take the lead with a diving steal on Missouri’s inbound pass as time expired.
When the clock hit zeroes, the Florida players celebrated with each other at center court to cap off their team win. Four Gators finished with 10 or more points and outrebounded the Tigers 32-30 to cap off a victory that will provide some much-needed confidence.
“We’ve had some tough losses,” Williams said, “but playing hard and fighting until the very end is going to help propel us for the games in the future.”
Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph and contact him at [email protected].