A late surge by the Florida women’s basketball team pushes them pass Vanderbilt in a 53-52 nail-bitter to advance to the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament, The Gators trailed for nearly the entire game but back-to-back free throws by junior guard Nina Rickards gave the Gators the lead at the end.
Florida avenged their four-point loss against the Commodores just a week ago and avoided a fourth consecutive loss. Although committing 21 turnovers and trailing by double-digits entering the final period, the Orange and Blue sends the number 13 seed Vanderbilt packing.
Rickards led the Gators in scoring with 15 points and eight rebounds. Also, Zippy Broughton scored the last three field goals for Florida as she tallied a total of 14 points and four boards.
Kiara Smith Heads to the Locker Room
It was a bitter-sweet moment for head coach Kelly Rae Finley and the Gators. Although, Finley claimed her first official win as head coach, the Minnesota native may be without a key piece moving forward. On the year, veteran guard Kiara Smith led Florida in points, rebounds, assists and steals but she exited the game in the fourth quarter with an apparent knee injury.
Smith had seven points and five rebounds in the game and Finley says the emotional reaction by the veteran guard was not a good sign moving forward.
In the aftermath of the injury, Rickards and Broughton picked up the scoring load for the Gators as they helped cut the deficit to 48-47 with 3:18 remaining. Then, Vandy went 2-for-4 from the free throw line down the stretch and Broughton scored six of Florida’s last eight points.
Rickards late-game free throws with just under nine seconds sealed the game for the Orange and Blue as it wins and advances in the tournament.
— Gators Women’s Basketball (@GatorsWBK) March 3, 2022
Finley recently mentioned the tremendous resiliency and guard play the Gators showcased down the stretch without their leader.
Rough Start for Florida
Early on, Florida had a tough time keeping possession on the offensive end. The Commodores came out firing on all cylinders out of the gate, scoring the game’s first 12 points, 10 of which came from Gator turnovers. However, like they displayed all season, this team lives on fighting through adversity. Florida went on a 12-4 run to end the opening quarter to pull within striking distance.
Also, UF would tie the game at 18 before the Commodores ended the first half on 13-4 run.
In the third, Vandy lead by as many as 14 points before Broughton drilled a triple from beyond the arc with seconds remaining before the final period. From there, the 11-point Commodore lead would dwindle as Florida outscored Vanderbilt 20-8 in the quarter.
An impressive win by the Gators to advance to the quarterfinals but, both Broughton and Rickards say they will halt any celebration on this win as they are focused on the health and well-being of their leader, Smith.
Now, Finley will lead Florida in their quarterfinal matchup against the number four seed Ole Miss, Friday. The Rebels are coming into this match up well rested with two days to survey the field. The Gators fell to the Rebels in their only meeting of the season, 74-56, on the road.
Tip off is set to begin, Friday, March 4th, at 3:30 p.m.