Razor Sharp Gators Upend No. 22 Arkansas



Box Score | Highlights  | Postgame Presser Kiki Smith SEC Network Interview

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Paced by redshirt-junior Kiki Smith’s career-high 26 points, the University of Florida women’s basketball team collected its second AP Top 25 win, its most in four years, Sunday afternoon as it knocked off visiting No. 22 Arkansas 83-80 at Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
 
The Gators (15-12, 6-8), who never trailed in the contest, recorded their 15th victory of the season, ensuring a .500 finish which will be the team’s first since the 2015-16 campaign.
 
Smith, who hadn’t scored more than 15 points in a game since Jan. 12 vs. Kentucky, was in attack mode all day long and knocked down a career-high 10 field goals, a majority of which came from close range. Smith set the tempo and concluded the game by scoring Florida’s final eight points. 

Florida also received significant contributions from up and down its lineup as four players finished in double figures.
 
Lavender Briggs, who entered the game tied for the SEC freshmen lead in scoring at 14.6 points per game, recorded 20 points as she finished with at least 20 for the third time in four games. Honored during a pre-game ceremony as part of the team’s Senior Sendoff, Zada Williams played an inspired 28 minutes. The Lakes Wales, Fla. native, registering her seventh double-double of the year, posted 12 points and 10 rebounds and her efforts were instrumental in Florida’s fast start.
 
Reserve players Emanuely de Oliveira and Ariel Johnson played key roles as they combined to score 20. The sophomore de Oliveira was responsible for 11 of them as she tied a career high and poured in three 3-pointers. Johnson stuffed the stat sheet with nine points, three assists, one steal and six boards, including a crucial defensive rebound with 42 seconds to play when Florida led by just three.
 
The Gators held a lead as large as 14 in the matchup, but the hard-charging Razorbacks (21-6, 9-5) sliced into the Florida lead by outscoring them, 24-19 in the fourth. After Florida turned the ball over on a sideline out of bounds with 1.8 seconds remaining leading 83-80, Arkansas’ Chelsea Dungee hoisted a last second heave from just inside halfcourt but it would ricochet off the rim as time expired.
 
Playing the Razorbacks for the second time this season, the Gators evened the score after falling 79-57 in Fayetteville on Jan. 26 and put an end to their three-game winning streak.

Going up against the nation’s third-highest scoring offensive attack, Florida kept pace with the high-flying Razorbacks as it finished with the second most points is has scored all season.

Sophomore Kristina Moore recorded just three points but corralled a career-best nine rebounds and helped fuel Florida’s decisive 45-32 edge on the glass. The Gators improved to 15-2 when outrebounding their opponent.

The Gators made six of their 17 three-point attempts but really made their living inside as they tallied 52 points in the paint, their second most in a game this season.

The Gators got things going from the opening tip, opening with a 10-0 run behind buckets from Williams and Briggs. Briggs would continue to pace the Gators, with nine points in the opening frame, as her triple followed by a Smith finish pushed a 19-5 advantage midway through the first. UF made five of its first seven shots. Arkansas would chip at the lead, fluctuating between single and double-digits, though, a Moore layup and five-point spurt from de Oliveira sent the Gators into the second up 26-16.

UF carried the momentum into the second quarter, as the Gators continued to pour it in seeing Smith and Johnson come alive in combining for 11 points in the frame. Smith’s free throws would grow Florida’s largest lead of the half at 40-26. The Razorbacks closed the gap to within single digits, but Johnson would extend it back to a 10-point lead (47-37) on a trey and finish at the rim. Arkansas’ Rokia Doumbia hit a three-point basket at the stanza’s buzzer to send the score into the intermission at 47-40.

UF connected on 19-of-40 from the floor on 47.5 percent shooting in the first half, including a 40 percent mark from beyond the arc (4-10), to hold the lead. The Razorbacks put out an efficient first half, shooting 50 percent from the floor (17-34), though, the Gators held them to just 2-of-9 from 3-point range (22.2 percent) while holding the edge on the glass over Arkansas, 24-17.

Briggs paced the Gators with 11 first half points while Smith added 10 of her own.

Arkansas utilized a 7-0 run to make it 55-49 with half of the third quarter expired, but Smith responded with back-to-back scores to create some breathing room. Smith really found her stroke in the third, scoring eight of Florida’s 14 points. The Razorbacks again cut UF’s advantage down to two possessions but Briggs swished a three-pointer from the corner with 18 seconds left to put Florida up 64-56 at quarter’s end.

The Razorbacks, one of the nation’s premier three-point shooting squads, would bomb their way back into the game with three-pointers in the fourth. Arkansas connected on four of their seven tries from distance and Amber Ramirez accounted for all four makes.  

After some back-and-forth action, the Gators pushed their lead back to 10 after a Smith steal resulted in a fast break lay in for Briggs. Arkansas cut the lead back to four though with 6:00 minutes to play after Ramírez drained a long-range jumper. Florida had the answer soon after when de Oliveira responded with a three of her own. Florida’s lead wouldn’t shrink back to four next until the 4:04 mark when Arkansas’ Kiara Williams converted a pair at the charity stripe.

From here on out the game would remain very tight as the teams exchanged blows. Each time Arkansas cut the lead down to a single possession, Florida would have an answer.
Smith dropped in a consecutive field goals to push Florida’s lead to 79-73 with 2:30 to play.

With Florida leading 81-77 after another score from Smith, Arkansas pulled within one at 81-80 with 1:15 to play after Ramirez got open in the corner and knocked it down from behind the three-point line. After the Arkansas timeout, Smith drove to the lane and scored with 55 seconds left to notch the game’s final basket and give Florida the 83-80 edge.

When Arkansas made its late run, Smith shut it down as she scored eight-straight points to close out the game.

Ramirez and A’Tyanna Gaulden led the way for the Razorbacks with 17 points each.

UF will play its home finale Thursday, Feb. 27 when it hosts No. 1 South Carolina. It will be Florida’s first game against an AP No. 1 team since Jan. 19, 2015 when it played No. 1 South Carolina on the road. The matchup would be the first time Florida has hosted the No. 1 team since it took on No. 1 Tennessee in Gainesville on Jan. 10, 1998.

UP NEXT
Thursday, Feb. 27
Florida (15-12, 6-8) vs. No. 1 South Carolina (27-1, 14-0)
Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center | Gainesville, Fla.
 
NOTABLES

  • Florida’s two seniors, Zada Williams and Paige Robinson, were honored during a pre-game ceremony as part of the team’s Senior Sendoff.
  • UF has its first win over an AP Top 25 opponent at home since Feb. 4, 2016 when it beat then No. 12 Texas A&M. It also marks the first time UF defeated multiple top 25 teams in a season since that same 2015-16 campaign.
  • Florida’s win ensures a .500 finish for the season, its first since the 2015-16 campaign.
  • Florida battled its ninth AP Top 25 foe, its most in a regular season since the 2001-02 campaign.
  • In support of the Play4Kay initiative, Florida donned its pink jerseys for the first time this season.
  • With six SEC wins, Florida has its most since the 2015-16 campaign and it has equaled its total from the last two seasons combined.
  • Sunday marked the second meeting between the programs this season; they also met back on Jan. 26 in Fayetteville.
  • UF has outrebounded its opponent in 17 games and is 15-2 when doing so.
  • Along with her career high (26) in scoring, Smith tied her career best with five steals.
  • Four Gators reached double figures on the evening (Smith – 26, Briggs – 20, Williams – 12, Oliveira – 11).
  • The last time UF had two players score 20+ points each was March 3, 2019 at Vanderbilt (Washington – 20; Nakkasoglu – 23).
  • Smith matched her single-game career-high for free throws made, going a perfect 6-for-6 from the charity stripe (6, at Kansas, 12/8/19).
  • Oliveira matched her career-high in scoring (11, at Georgia, 2/10/19), while matching her single-game career-high for 3-pointers made with a perfect 3-for-3 outing.
  • Briggs tallied her fourth 20-point performance of her career; has reached double figures in 24 of 27 contests.
  • Kristina Moore set a new career-high with nine rebounds.
  • UF outrebounded Arkansas by double digits, 45-32.
  • 52 of UF’s 83 points came inside the paint.
  • UF additionally tallied 21 points off of Arkansas’ 16 turnovers

QUOTABLES
Head Coach Cam Newbauer
 
Opening Statement…
“I’m just proud of our effort today. We weren’t really excited about how we finished the game on Thursday at Alabama. We came in Friday, had a good meeting, and the toughness and resolve that we played with today and they played the way we had to play to win the game. We led most of the game and even when they came back, we didn’t flinch. We just played with aggressiveness on every possession, even when we made mistakes or didn’t get stops, we played with great aggression. That was the difference in the game for us today. Put 83 on the board on Senior Night. It was a special night and Zada (Williams) goes for a double-double. She played 28 minutes; that’s incredible effort. Kiki (Smith) had 26 points. She struggled from the free throw line the other day, but she went six for six today and hit some big shots late and just kept the tempo going for us. Lav (Briggs) has 20 for us. You’d be remiss if you didn’t talk about everybody. Kristina Moore had nine rebounds and three offensive. Manu (De Oliveira) was three of three from the three-point line. I told her this week, ‘no more threes.’ I trust her judgement and she felt good about it. Hats off to Manu for really stepping up tonight when she had the opportunity. Faith (Dut) comes in and gets two big offensive rebounds. Ari Johnson had some great defensive possessions like that possession where she dove on the floor for the loose ball, twice. That heart and passion bleeds into everyone else. Just an incredible team effort today.”
 
On what he’s most proud of…
“Just the resolve from Thursday. You always wonder how your group is going to respond after a loss that you think is bad… It’s more to do with the attitude and effort that we played with. We had a meeting where we just talked about where we’re at and attitude and how we play. A couple of the players literally said to me, ‘if we didn’t do this, I was going to be concerned’. Everybody can always say those type of things, but to really mean it and then show up today and play the way we did and stay with it. That’s a different pace than we’re used to playing. I think just the toughness and grittiness to understand and stay in the moment and play that way for 40 minutes and then not flinch in other moments. There wasn’t finger pointing, heads weren’t banging and then we made the next play. We just kept making the next play when we had to make it.”
 
On the last sideline out of bounds play…
“I heard (Mike Neighbors) say, ‘we need one stop.’ If they would have pressed us, it would have opened up the floor and we were attacking really well today. So, if you open up the floor, Kiki can drive in space. To give us more space to drive, I think that would have helped us… It didn’t really surprise me because they would have been in the bonus and the clock. It’s a tough call sometimes.”
 
On the growth of the team…
“We saw that in the first quarter tonight. Our energy was completely different tonight. The effort was completely different.”
 
On Ariel Johnson
“The loose balls and deflections she created defensively. That’s a young lady who, if you look at her stats, she has not shot the ball nearly as well as she’s capable. She spends so much time in the gym working on it and it just hasn’t went her way. Tonight, for her to get the three she took was a great shot. She made so many plays to help us win this game. I’m just proud of the resolve she has personally to keep playing through it because you want to see the fruits of your labor and if you don’t see that, it’s easy to quit. For her to bring it tonight and make hustle plays to try to impact our team, that’s Ari Johnson.”

#1 Kiki Smith, Redshirt Junior Guard
On what was working for her…
“Just having an aggressive mindset and being in the gym this past week. I knew in order for us to pull off this win I needed to put the ball in the basket a lot more. So just being in the gym, holding my follow through and trusting my training with everything I did tonight.”

On getting the win…
“We just wanted to come back in the gym and get a win after a loss last game. We had a great crowd, we really just wanted to do this for them. And we wanted to do it for Zada and Paige’s senior day, we wanted to do it for each other. Knowing that we had a lot of energy, we took all that energy and we got the win.”

#3 Lavender Briggs, Freshman Guard
On not letting Arkansas take charge of the game…
“Cam always says that this game is filled with runs. They’re going to have theirs, we’re going to have ours, so I think it was just really important for us to keep our heads and be disciplined and focus on what we had to do.”

#12 Zada Williams, Senior Forward
On getting the win on her senior night…
“Really proud of my team. It was rough coming back from the game against Alabama and having that really tough meeting on Friday, but we all just put in our heads that we have nothing to lose. We went out there and played hard, and tonight we really proved that.”
 
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