8 minutes ago
GAINESVILLE, FL – Florida women’s basketball held onto a thrilling 66-63 victory over Southern Conference regular season champion Wofford in the first round of the Women’s NIT on Thursday night.
The Gators (17-14) were led by a season-high 24 points from Leilani Correa, plus three steals. Nina Rickards, who scored her 1,000th point against the Terriers (22-10), finished her night with 18 points, three rebounds and three steals, while KK Deans had 15 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals .
Florida shot 25 of 53 (47.2%) from the field and 5 of 23 (21.7%) from deep while limiting Wofford to 24 of 67 (35.8%) from the floor and 9 of 29 ( 31%) at long range. The Terriers, who entered Thursday’s contest averaging just 10 turnovers per game, were hampered by Florida’s length, turning the ball over more than 19 times with four Gators recording three interceptions to give them an advantage. 20-9 points on turnovers for Orange & Bleu.
Using the size advantage, the Gators had six shots, with Correa and Jeriah Warren each getting two. The Terriers, however, controlled the boards with a 45-28 advantage, including 20 offensive rebounds while limiting UF to just four.
Wofford was led by Rachael Rose with 19 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals.
The Terriers started hot on the court, knocking down two of their first three attempts from deep to take a 6-0 lead. Wofford continued to hold the lead at 6:13, 10-5, before back-to-back scoops and scores from Rickards and Deans brought the Gators one point down at 10-9. Florida’s first lead of the game came with 2:58 on the clock when Deans drained a triple off the top of the key, while Correa followed with another triple on the next possession, extending Florida’s run to 10 -0.
The Gators finished the first period on a 17-0 streak, taking a 22-10 lead in the second quarter. In the final 6:13 of the opening frame, UF held the Terriers scoreless while forcing seven turnovers in that span.
Florida’s lead would peak at 14 in the second quarter before a 10-0 run at Wofford that brought the SoCon regular-season champions within four, 24-20. Correa ended Wofford’s streak with a quick break at 4:58, but the Terriers had an immediate response to stay within four.
A quick 4-0 push from Rickards and Correa again extended Florida’s lead to eight with less than three minutes remaining before Wofford, in the same way they started the second frame, closing on a run 7-0 to make it a point. match before halftime at 30-29.
The Gators took a 34-32 lead, thanks to back-to-back jumpers from Rickards, with 7:37 left in the third quarter. Their advantage didn’t last long, however, as the Terriers went on an 11-2 streak to take their biggest lead of the game, 43-36, with 5:07 on the clock.
Trailing five at 4:19, the Gators went on a 9-3 run, capped off by another Rickards pull-up, to regain the lead at 49-48. As Wofford regained the lead with 40 seconds left, and a chance from Correa would give Florida a 52-50 lead going into the final 10 minutes of the game.
Wofford opened the final frame with his seventh triple of the game to briefly take a one-point advantage, but a 6-0 run, with four points from Warren and Rickards’ 1,000th career point, gave Florida a lead 58-53 at the 6:56 mark. Continuing with the theme of the game, the Terriers fought back to tie the game at 58 just a minute later.
Both teams went nearly three minutes without a bucket before Deans played the hero ball and drained a fadeaway as the shot clock expired to give Florida a 62-60 lead with 52 seconds left. Correa knocked down two free throws to make it 64-60, but Jackie Carman drained a three at the other end to pull it back in one at 64-63 with 13 seconds left. It would again be Correa who, with ice in his veins, knocked down a pair of free throws a second later to secure the 66-63 victory.
Head Coach Kelly Rae Finley
Thursday’s game… “This team averages 10 turnovers per game, I thought it was really our defensive intensity that set the tone for us. I thought we shot the ball particularly well and I challenged our team at half time to see if we could only turn it over twice in the second half, and that’s what we did. I thought that was a difference in the game. It’s really fun to coach this team because they are so versatile and when you play against a team that shoots all three as well as Wofford, we have a huge amount of respect for that team and their coaching staff, they play extremely hard, they are very talented and skilled, and their coaching staff prepared them very well.
On Nina scoring her 1,000th career point… “It was amazing to see Nina score her 1,000th point. She’s played a lot of games and a lot of minutes in this arena, and so to be able to celebrate that with her tonight was an added bonus.”
On KK Deans’ shot to beat the clock at the end of the fourth… “It was probably the fifth, sixth, maybe the eighth time, I don’t know, this season that she had done that late in the shot clock. She had taken some good shots and Nina had taken some really good shots We had a few hits and looks out of the timeouts which were great looks that maybe didn’t drop, but for this one to drop, it might have opened the bucket a bit for us.”
Main Guard Nina Rickards
Making the most of this playoff opportunity… “I think it’s very important. You know, we want to get a feel for what it’s like to play at the end of March. Even if it’s not the NCAA tournament, we’re still going to take this opportunity and try to win everything. It’s very important for my young teammates and me to get that experience and compete. There are some really good teams in the WNIT, so we’re going to take advantage of that and race with it, and it should be fun. “
By scoring his 1,000th point with Florida… It’s very special. In fact, I didn’t know I was that close until some of my teammates reminded me this week. I really wasn’t focusing on that this match, I just wanted to win and it happened. I was playing hard and it happened, so it’s exciting to know that all the hard work I’ve put in, I’ve been here for four years, is paying off and showing. I’m glad to be here… Forever a Gator.”
– The Gators improve to 3-0 against the Terriers.
– Florida also moves to 16-8 all-time in the WNIT, which includes a 6-3 mark in the first round of the tournament.
– The Gators have never lost in hosting a WNIT game, now going 5-0.
–Nina Rickards became the club’s 27th member to 1,000 points after a layup with 6:56 left in the fourth quarter.
– KK Deans is now alone in 11th for most threes in an individual season by a Gator, connecting on 68.
–She’s also only fifth for most threes by a senior in a single season in Florida history.
– Leilani Correa’s 24 points are a season high.
— Jeriah Warren tied a career high with two blocks.
– Warren also tied a career high with three interceptions.
The Gators will hit the road for the second round of the WNIT, traveling to Winston-Salem, NC for a 6 p.m. ET game with Wake Forest on Monday, March 20.