Gators collapse to rival in conference play debut

Photo by Brian Fox | ChompTalk

After a matchup with Mississippi State was postponed over the holiday season, women’s basketball finally returned to Exactech Arena with the Florida Gators hosting the No. 12 Georgia Bulldogs. But the homecoming was bittersweet and the Bulldogs escaped the Swamp with a 73-69 victory.

The loss snapped Florida’s chance at a fifth consecutive win while UGA earned their ninth straight win.

A second chance effort from guard Kiki Smith fell through the net to bring the score to 71-69 with 10 seconds left in the game. The Gators pressed on Georgia’s next possession and Lavender Briggs drew a desperate foul but it would be too late.

Georgia guard Que Morrison, who went 10-10 from the foul line, gladly stepped forward to release the guillotine on Florida’s win streak. Morrison finished Sunday with 18 points, eight rebounds and four assists.

Overall, the Gators played Georgia in a tight competition from the opening tip. Both teams shot 44-45% from the floor and UGA outrebounded the Gators just two more times, 35-33.

Kiki Smith took the spotlight for the Gators while tallying 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists. The junior also swished a three-point bucket for the cherry on top.

Forward Jordyn Merrit earned a starting spot on UF’s roster and didn’t disappoint. The sophomore built up 18 points and five rebounds. Merrit and Smith were thieves in the night and combined to rack up seven steals. Smith tallied five of the takeaways and moves to the top-10 in UF history for career steals.

Head coach Kelly Rae Finely complimented Georgia’s physical play in the post-game media session.

“(Georgia’s) handsy, they’re competitive, they’re physical. They make multiple efforts all over the defensive end of the floor, “ Finley said. “They’re a very talented defensive team and I thought in the second half we did a much, much better job. It’s that second quarter kind of got away from us there.”

Florida outscored the Bulldogs in the first frame of action but Georgia staggered Florida, 19-9, in the second to steal a lead. Georgia never looked back and maintained the lead until the very end.

The Gators are now 0-1 in conference play with another home matchup against the Ole Miss Rebels on Wednesday night. The opening tip is set for 6 p.m from the O’Dome and will be broadcast to SEC Network+.

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