Rae Finley ready to take over Gators women’s hoops

The 2021-22 season should be a good one for Gators Women’s Basketball, as Kelly Rae Finley will assume her role as interim head coach for the upcoming season. And with plenty of talent returning, this roster will be one of Florida’s most experienced in several seasons.

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Kelly Rae Finley as interim head coach

Just six weeks after signing a three-year extension, Cam Newbauer announced he would be stepping down as the Gators women’s basketball head coach. Hired in 2017, Newbauer was head coach of the Gators for four seasons and ended his Florida career with a 46-71 record.

Rae Finley was promoted to interim head coach in July of 2021. She came to Gainesville in 2017 from the University of Arizona where she was an assistant coach for one season. She served as an assistant coach for her first two seasons with the Gators. After that, she was promoted to associate head coach in May 2019.

Rae Finley talks talent on the roster

Florida has three 5-star signees on its roster with Lavender Briggs, Jordyn Merritt and transfer guard Zipporah Broughton.

Broughton comes to Gainesville after spending her first three seasons competing at Rutgers. During the 2020-21 season, she averaged 8.2 points per game and 3.4 assists per game in her 10 appearances. She is an athletic guard who earned the Alabama Gatorade Player of the Year in 2018.

During Merritt’s freshman season, the 6-foot-3 forward started the Gators’ final 10 games and earned SEC All-Freshman team. She averaged 6.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 0.8 assists in the 2020-21 season. After returning from a knee injury, she posted 17 points and 18 rebounds over Charlotte to help the Gators to their first win in the postseason in seven years.

Familiar faces back in the Orange and Blue

The Gators are welcoming back 87 percent of its scoring, 89 percent of its rebounding, 89 percent of its assists and 85 percent of its minutes played from last year. And there is lots of depth and team continuity as eight of Florida’s top nine scorers return.

Furthermore, the Gators will account for two of the top three returning scorers in the SEC in guards Kiara “Kiki” Smith and Briggs. Rae Finley touted the return of Smith and Briggs as being a blessing to cap off the roster.

Smith averaged 18.8 points per game. She is the first player in program history to lead the Gators in points, rebounds and assists for a season. She will utilize her extra year of college eligibility to return as the team’s leader in 2021.

Meanwhile, Briggs averaged 19.5 points per game until a foot injury ended her season. Nonetheless, she was named to All-SEC Second Team as a sophomore in 2021. Briggs became the first Gator in five years to receive the honor. On what has been a stellar beginning to her career, Briggs averaged 21.8 points per game in SEC play last year.

Looking ahead

Rae Finley definitely has an optimistic outlook on the upcoming season. In deciding on what changes she would like to enact as interim head coach, she expanded on how “if it’s not broke, what is there to fix.”

For now, her main priority heading into the season is getting the team more experience.  And with this depth, it will be interesting to see how she utilizes this experienced Gators roster in the 2021-22 season.

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