Gators Fend Off Musketeers

Box Score

The University of Florida women’s basketball team improved to 8-3 Friday evening as it posted a 67-64 victory over Xavier in the opening round of the West Palm Beach Invitational hosted by Keiser University.

For the second-straight game a Florida player recorded a career high in scoring, this time it was redshirt-senior Zada Williams. Williams, who scored 16 points in the first half which were the most in a first half by any Florida player this season, registered a career-best 25 to go with seven boards. Williams tied her career best with 11 made field goals.

Scoring in double figures for the ninth-straight game, Lavender Briggs recorded 14 points. The first-year standout scored 10 points in the second half, including a pair of crucial three-pointers. The Utah native just missed her fifth double-double of the season as she finished with nine boards.

Timely free throws and stifling defense down the stretch proved to be the difference for the Gators who extended their record to 8-3 for the first time since the 2015-16 campaign.

Florida started the game with a 7-0 run and never looked back, as it held the lead for over 37 minutes and grew its advantage to as large as 11. In what was an action-packed fourth quarter, the Musketeers made things interesting with late three-pointers but free throws from sophomore Ariel Johnson sealed the win.

The Gators recorded 19 assists on their 27 made field goals and outscored Xavier, 36-28 in points in the paint. Williams’ dominance in the post accounted for the majority of Florida’s close-range conversions.

Entering the game allowing just 56.1 points per game, the lowest through 10 games in over 20 seasons by a Gator team, Florida’s defense once again was the story. The Gators made it tough on their opponent all game long and held the Musketeers to 38.3 percent shooting. Johnson’s defense was especially effective down the stretch as she accounted for two steals late in the game.

Playing in their home state, the Gators started off hot making six of their first eight shots to open the game. Florida built an early 17-7 lead, but Xavier concluded the first period on an 8-2 scoring run. UF carried a 19-15 lead after the first quarter had expired.

After a three from Brylee Bartram kicked off Florida’s second quarter, the Musketeers utilized a 7-0 run to knot the score at 22-22. Florida handled the Xavier run and outscored the Musketeers 13-6 from this point forward in the frame.

At the intermission Florida led 35-28. The Gator guards found Williams early and often as redshirt-senior dominated the interior making seven of her 12 attempts and recording two traditional three-point plays.

The third quarter was a defensive struggle as Xavier outscored Florida 10-7 and trimmed the UF advantage to just 42-38 heading into the final stanza.

After Xavier scored on the first possession of the fourth quarter to make it a one possession game, Florida managed to weather the storm. Florida led just 47-44, but scored seven straight points to build back its double-digit advantage with 5:17 to play.

Florida’s lead wouldn’t shrink to below two possessions until the 23 second mark when XU’s Lauren Wasylson drilled a three-pointer to make it 64-61. On the ensuing possession, Johnson split a pair of free throws after the Musketeers fouled. Xavier then went back down the court and again connected on a three-pointer as Aaliyah Dunham scored from long-range to make it 65-64.

Xavier elected to fouled Johnson again, but this time the sophomore was true on both attempts.

Dunham hoisted a three-pointer with three seconds left, but the attempt was off the mark.

Wasylson paced the Musketeers with 15 points. For the Musketeers, it was their sixth loss this season by 10 or fewer points.

Florida faces a quick turnaround as it plays its final game of the West Palm Beach Invitational Saturday at 12:15 p.m. ET.

  • Briggs has scored in double figures in nine-straight games.
  • Williams finished with 10 or more points for the eighth time through 11 games.
  • Florida improves to 8-1 when outrebounding its opponent.
  • Florida’s 19 assists were its second-most in a game this season.
  • Freshman Nina Rickards made her second-straight start.
  • At 8-3, the Gators are off to their best start since the 2015-16.
  • Through 11 games last season, UF was just 3-8. Through 11 games this season, UF sits at 8-3.

Saturday, Dec. 21 | 12:15 p.m. ET
Florida (8-3) vs. Wake Forest (6-4)
West Palm Beach Invitational
Keiser University Student Life Center | West Palm Beach, Fla.
Head Coach Cam Newbauer
Overall thoughts…
“You know they’re a dangerous team, they’ve been in every single game all year because of their shooters. They fight back relentlessly. Hats off to Mel and her group. They play so stinking hard and they went eight of 17 from three. We did a couple things well execution wise tonight, you know Zada had 25 points and seven rebounds. It was a big day for her inside. There were some other good moments execution wise, but free throws really bit us in the tail a little bit there. Overall, with 19 assists and 14 turnovers and outrebounding them, we got the win away from home so we’ll take it. It wasn’t pretty but for us to get a win on the road, for the young group we have to fight and close it out was good.”

On Zada William’s play…
“Our players did a really good job of finding her and she did an even better job of finishing inside. She took care of business when her number was called and I’m really proud of her for that.”

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