Florida head coach Kelly Rae Finley smiles before an NCAA college basketball game against South Carolina, Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Youngblood)

Gators Overpower Wake Forest to Reach Super 16

The Florida Gators women’s basketball team picked the right time to hit their stride. After a narrow victory in their opening matchup of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), the Gators came back out looking stronger than ever in the round of 32. Florida downed the Wake Forest Demon Deacons 80-63 Monday night.

Nina Rickards looked unstoppable all night long for the Gators. She tallied up a career-high 25 points on 10-for-17 shooting, including a perfect 3-for-3 from three-point range. KK Deans dished out a team-high 10 assists on the day while chipping in with 13 points. Jordyn Merritt finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. She led the Gators in the latter two categories.

Jewel Spear put up 25 points for the Demon Deacons, albeit on a 7-for-19 shooting performance. Wake Forest struggled from the field all night long, finishing with a 33% shooting clip. Florida, on the other hand, shot 48% from the field on Monday. They also maintained high efficiency from the charity stripe and from long distance. The Gators went 12-for-25 from three-point range and converted on 14 of their 17 free throw attempts. In comparison, Wake Forest only made nine of their 25 attempts from deep and shot 12-for-19 from the free throw line.

Florida Rides Second Quarter Takeover To Victory

Despite the Gators starting out on a 7-0 run, the Demon Deacons hung in there early on in the game. Led by an 11-point quarter from Spears, Wake Forest held on to a 15-11 lead at the end of the first period. The Demon Deacons managed to score six points in the final minute of the quarter, courtesy of a lay-up from Elise Williams and four free throws for Spear.

Florida proceeded to fully regain control in the second quarter. In the first three minutes of the period, the two teams combined for just one made shot: a three from Rickards. Eventually, the Gators broke the stalemate with a 14-3 run. UF could not miss from deep, knocking down seven three-pointers in the first half alone. By halftime, Florida had jumped out to a 33-24 lead.

Wake Forest remained resilient in the third quarter, cutting down their deficit to as little as four points. However, Rickards continued her strong performance to keep Florida in the driver’s seat. She scored 13 of the Gators’ 18 points in the quarter, with the other five coming on a layup for Jeriah Warren and a successful and-one for Deans. At the end of the third quarter, the Gators still led 51-42.

The fourth period proved to be an all-out offensive bloodbath. Both teams recorded their highest-scoring quarters of the game, with the Demon Deacons hoping to spark one last comeback attempt and the Gators looking to put this one to bed. In the end, Florida came out on top, outscoring Wake Forest 29 to 21 in the quarter. UF jumped out to a 12-6 run early in the fourth, and they never looked back from there.

Next Up For The Gators

Florida will return to the hardwood on Thursday at 7 p.m. to take on the Clemson Tigers. Clemson’s head coach, Amanda Butler, previously served as Florida’s head coach from 2007 to 2017. In her ten seasons with the Gators, Butler compiled a 190-136 record. She led the team to four NCAA Tournament appearances, but never made it past the second round. Florida eventually fired her following a 15-16 record in the 2016-17 season.

Butler has not fared much better over at Clemson. In five seasons with the Tigers, she has scrapped together a 66-85 record with only one NCAA Tournament appearance. Butler will now look to get revenge on her old squad, while the Gators hope to advance to their first NIT Semifinals appearance since 2013.

About Jack Meyer

Jack Meyer is a third-year student at the University of Florida. He is majoring in Journalism and specializing in Sports and Media.

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