The University of Florida womenâ€™s basketball team fell in a hard-fought contest to UNLV, 56-53, in its final game of the Duel in the Desert Friday afternoon at Cox Pavilion.
Funda Nakkasoglu, one of four UF players to score eight or more, finished with 16 points and accounted for four of the Gatorsâ€™ nine three-pointers. Zada Williams added nine points off the bench while Kiki Smith and Kristina Moore both registered eight tallies.
Florida and UNLV battled back-and-forth as the matchup saw six ties and eight lead changes as neither team held a lead of more than six points.
Smith and freshman Ariel Johnson each finished with a career-best seven assists and Johnson also collected a team-best eight rebounds helping the Gators win the battle on the glass, 39-33.
In addition to its success rebounding, the Gators also shared the ball well, finishing with 15 assists on 21 made field goals. Nine of those field goals came from beyond the arc as Florida had its best long-range shooting night since knocking down 13 against Texas Tech.
For the seventh time this season, Florida carried a lead into the intermission as it held a 23-20 advantage over the Lady Rebels. UF got down early in the first quarter, facing a 15-9 deficit, but scored the final six points of the first quarter and the first six of the second quarter to build a 21-15 edge midway through the second stanza. All told it was a 12-0 scoring run that brought the Gators back and all 12 points were the result of three-point baskets.
After the teams played an even 15-15 first quarter, Florida locked down its defense and held the Lady Rebels to just five second quarter points.
Nakkasoglu checked in with 11 points at the break as Florida came out hot from distance, pouring in five of its first nine long range attempts. Against Utah, it took Florida until midway through the fourth to notch its first three-pointer, but Friday the Gators found their shooting stroke right away as their first points came by way of a Nakkasoglu triple.
The Gators started off the second half strong as the freshman forward Moore recorded a three-pointers on their first possession. The Gators maintained their lead until the 4:33 mark of the stanza when UNLVâ€™s Latecia Smith canned a three-pointer to make it 30-28 Lady Rebels. UNLV led for the rest of the quarter and by as many as five, but a Paige Robinson layup cut the lead to just 35-33 heading into the fourth.
Florida carried its momentum in the final period as Williams scored six-straight points to put the Gators ahead 39-37 with 8:36 in the quarter. After an early media timeout, UNLV utilized a 4-0 run to jump back ahead 41-39. From this point forward, UNLV would never trail as the teams exchanged baskets, but Florida continued to stay within striking distance. Florida never faced a deficit larger than five in the final minutes and drew within singles digits at 56-53 with just eight seconds remaining.
Trailing by just three with the ball, Florida drew up a sideline out of bounds play to free up the sharp-shooting Nakkasoglu, but with a foul to give UNLV keyed in on the redshirt-senior and fouled her after she caught the inbounds pass. This prompted a Gator timeout and a chance to draw up a new play. Now with just three seconds remaining, UF inbounded the ball to Rainey, who had just drilled a three-pointer on the previous possession. Rainey caught the pass and the TCU transfer got a clean look, but her three-point attempt fell short as time expired.
The Lady Rebels featured two double-digit scorers, paced by Nikki Wheatleyâ€™s 18.
Rainey finished with six points and five rebounds on the day, providing valuable minutes in just her third game playing for the Gators.
After averaging 11.5 points over two games, the junior Williams was named to the Duel in Desert All-Tournament team.
Florida returns to action Sunday, Dec. 30 when it concludes its non-conference slate with a matinee matchup with Charleston Southern at Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. Oâ€™Connell Center.
Â· Florida finished with 27 first half rebounds against UNLV after adding a total of 27 in yesterdayâ€™s game vs. Utah.
Â· Floridaâ€™s 15 assists were its most since it recorded 16 vs. Texas Tech.
Â· UFâ€™s bench outscored its opponentâ€™s reserves for the seventh time this season.
Â· The Gators recorded assists on six of their first seven field goals.
Â· Florida scored at the buzzer in the first quarter when Smith recorded a three-pointer and in the third when Robinson scored on a layup.
Â· Florida recorded 15 assists on 21 made field goals.
Â· Kristina Moore has knocked down two or more three-pointers in consecutive games for the first time this season.
Â· Freshman Ariel Johnson started her second-straight game.
Â· The Gators have held their opponent to under 60 points in four of the last five games.
Â· Florida falls to 3-4 in games played in the state of Nevada and 3-6 against Mountain West conference.
Â· UF falls to 0-2 vs. UNLV and both matchups have occurred in tournaments hosted by the Lady Rebels.
Florida head coach Cameron Newbauer
On the final play of the game
â€œWe still got the look we wanted even after we got a great chance on the first play we ran for Funda. Dani (Danielle) got a great look at, but it just didnâ€™t fall. The thing is that you have to feel what itâ€™s like to make shots like that in order to make them in those moments and Iâ€™m happy we are getting experience in big plays like that.â€
On the teamâ€™s success moving the ball
â€œWe have focused on distributing and sharing the ball more and I think we really improved on that tonight. Kiki and Ari both did an excellent job of passing it as we finished with 15 assists on 21 made field goals.â€
On the play of freshman Ariel Johnson
â€œAri (Ariel) just got in there and played tough and strong all game. She is multifaceted player and today she found a way to impact the game despite not shooting it as well as she would have liked.â€
On the play of Danielle Rainey
â€œThis is the third game sheâ€™s played with us and sheâ€™s got the pressure of just wanting to perform in real games after a year off of practicing. She did a nice job stepping in tonight and hitting some big shots.â€
On the teamâ€™s defense
â€œIt was just the offensive rebounds at the wrong moments. You hold a team to 56 points and youâ€™ll have an opportunity to win the game. Iâ€™m pleased with the way we competed defensively.â€
On adjustments going forward
â€œWe need to work on valuing the ball more, just sharing it and getting open. We need to cut down on the turnovers as well.â€
Florida (3-9) vs. Charleston Southern (3-7)
Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. Oâ€™Connell Center | Gainesville, Fla.