By Florida standards, Gainesville was basically the frozen tundra over the weekend with the cold front that swooped in. The cold found its way onto the Exactech Arena court and into the Florida Gators Sunday.
The Gators women’s basketball team fell to the No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks 62-50. UF dug a huge hole in the first half due to a poor shooting performance that couldn’t be filled by an admirable second half effort.
Florida started the game just 1-for-19 from the field through the first quarter as the Gamecocks built their double-digit lead. Three-pointers, layups and free throws. Florida couldn’t sink any as Carolina led 19-3 after the first 10 minutes. A jumper in the lane by Kiki Smith was the lone field goal.
Gators Head Coach Kelly Rae Finley said there was difficulty with how open the players were at times. South Carolina presents a unique length that’s hard to simulate and thus players might’ve misjudged their shots. But Florida saw good looks nonetheless. It just like there was a lid on the rim for Florida.
“They’re not different than anything that what we’ve seen all season so far, but (there’s) an expectation to execute and knock them down,” Finley said. “We knew at some point they would start to fall. Which is why I don’t think you saw panic. And you just simply have to start better shooting from the floor if you’re going to beat a team like that.”
The Gators indeed didn’t panic as they outscored the Gamecocks 47-43 over the next 30 minutes of game time. Unfortunately, that still resulted in a 12-point loss. An end result Finley said she wouldn’t have expected after the first 10.
One contributing factor to that effort was limiting National Player of the Year candidate Aliyah Boston. The junior finished with 13 points and was 1-for-6 from the field in the second half. Most of her points in that half came from three free throws.
Smith said the team knew coming in if they could limit her and the guards played well on defense it would be a tough game for her and the Gamecocks.
“I give all credit to our fours and our five for playing hard on her and being…just as physical with her as she was with them,” Smith said. “I think that the guards, we did a good job of guarding our own man so that the forwards didn’t have to help as much as we didn’t want them to.”
Finley said the Gators got back to who they were in that second half after making some adjustments. That is running the offense through Smith in transition to get good looks. She said Carolina did a good job to limit that starting out.
Smith finished with 22 points on 10-for-22 from the field with two made free throws plus four rebounds but just two assists to three turnovers. Jordyn Merritt, who posted 16 points in the win over LSU, was limited to just eight on Sunday because of how South Carolina defended her.
Despite the putrid start and persistent double-digit lead, the crowd stayed throughout. Finley said the fans’ presence and encouragement kept Florida in it and chipping into that big deficit.
Now, the Gators will welcome the No. 4 Tennessee Volunteers into Gainesville on Thursday to close out a three-game home stand. It’s Florida’s second consecutive game against a top five team and fourth straight against a ranked team.
“Their guard play is very different,” Finley said. “They have a tremendous inside presence and (Tamari) Key who (is) an elite shot blocker, she might lead the country in shot blocks per game. Just being able to combat (South Carolina’s) length, I think it prepares us well. But they’re very talented. There’s also a reason that they’re top five, but we don’t focus on that number. It’s them versus us.”