Gators Match-Up with Mercer Tuesday at the O’Dome

After a two-game road swing and putting the finishing touches on its final exams, the University of Florida women’s basketball team returns home Tuesday, Dec. 17 to host the Mercer Bears at Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. ET and the contest will be broadcast live on the SEC Network as the Gators and Bears meet for the second-straight season.

Date:Tuesday, Dec. 17
Time:7 p.m. ET
Matchup:Florida (6-3) vs. Mercer (3-7)
Location:Gainesville, Fla. | Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell
TV:SEC Network  Eric Freid & Christy Thomaskutty
Live Stats: Here
Radio:WRUF ESPN 98.1 FM/850 AM  with Kyle Crooks & Brittany Davis
Game Notes:Florida | Mercer
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The Gators split a pair of true road matchups at Prairie View A&M and at Kansas in their most recent action. After a come-from-behind victory at Prairie View, Florida got off to a strong start against Kansas, but fell 76-66 to the undefeated Jayhawks. Florida led for the majority of the first half and Kiki Smith tied a career best with 18 points, but it wasn’t enough as a second half surge pushed Kansas to its eighth-straight win to open the season. Florida stymied the Jayhawks in the first half, conceding just 29 points, but over the course of the final 20 minutes KU shot 61.5 percent and tallied 47 points. Freshman Lavender Briggs and senior Zada Williams tallied 12 points each and nine different Gators scored in the game.
Both Briggs and Williams have gotten off to strong starts to open the 2019-20 slate. Williams, who started 13 games a season ago, has emerged as UF’s go-to interior scoring threat. The Lake Wales, Fla. native has been especially effective over her last four games, averaging 15.5 points, 10. 8 rebounds on .622 shooting.
She leads the squad with a .633 field goal percentage, one of the best marks not only in the SEC but also the nation.
Briggs has been terrific to kickoff her Gator career and leads the team with a 13.3 points per game, the highest by a Florida freshman to open her career since 2002. The six-foot-one guard became the first Florida freshman since that the same season to tally double-figure points in seven of her first eight career games.
Only six freshmen in the last 20 years of Florida women’s basketball have averaged at least 10 points per game through first eight career games, Briggs is one of them.
Despite its second half troubles against Kansas, the Gators’ defensive unit is much improved and one of the best, statistically, in the conference. Florida is allowing just 56.9 points per game through its first nine, nearly a 10-point improvement in comparison to last year’s start through the same subset of games.
The Gators have held their last seven opponents below their scoring average. On four occasions they have held their opponent to less than 30 percent shooting after only doing so twice last year.
The Gators and Bears will meet for the ninth time Tuesday and for the second-straight season. In a series that dates back to 1978, the teams are tied at 4-4. Florida’s three-game winning streak in the series came to a close last season when Mercer posted a 92-82 victory in Macon.
Despite outscoring Mercer, 34-23 in the fourth quarter, the Gators came up short against the Bears in what was their home opener last season. The Gators fought back after trailing by as many as 21 points in the third quarter and trimmed the Mercer lead to as low as four in the fourth. Both teams finished the game shooting above 45 percent and with at least eight made three-pointers. Florida excelled at the free throw line, connecting on 16-of-17 (94.1 percent).

The Bears finished the 2018-19 season with a 25-8 record and qualified for their second-straight NCAA Tournament. Mercer fell to No. 2 seed Iowa, 66-61, marking the second-straight season it lost by five or fewer points in the NCAA Tournament (68-63 loss to Georgia in 2018).

Mercer, set to take on its fourth Power Five foe, enters the matchup with a 3-7 record. The Bears lost four starters from last season’s club; junior Shannon Titus, a Preseason All-Southern Conference selection, is the lone starter back. The Johns Creek, Ga. native leads the Bears in scoring per game (14.3), rebounds per game (7.4) and steals per game (2.7). Sophomores Jaron Dougherty and Amoria Neal-Tysor average 14.2 and 10.4 points per game, respectively. The Bears, who were slated as the Southern Conference favorite this season, began the campaign 1-6 but have won two of their last three games. Three of Mercer’s losses have been against Power Five foes in Alabama, Georgia and its most recent matchup, Clemson. Mercer hosted Clemson this past Sunday and fell, 65-61.

Susie Gardner, in her 10th season in Macon, leads the Mercer program. Gardner spent three seasons with the Gators as an assistant coach (2007-10) and before that was the head coach at Arkansas (2003-07). In her 21st season overall, Gardner has amassed over 350 career wins. 
Following Tuesday’s matchup with Mercer, Florida travels to West Palm Beach to compete in the West Palm Beach Invitational on the campus of Keiser University. In the holiday tournament, the Gators take on Xavier on Friday, Dec. 20 and Wake Forest on Saturday, Dec. 21. After the tournament, Florida will break until Dec. 29 when it hosts its non-conference finale against the Davidson Wildcats.

  • Tuesday marks the first of seven games to be televised nationally on the ESPN family of networks. The Gators are set to play in five nationally-televised home games at Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, their most since the 2014-15 season.
  • With victories at Grambling St. and at Prairie View A&M, Florida won back-to-back road games for the first time since Nov. of 2016.
  • Through games as of Nov. 12, Florida is one of just three SEC programs to have battled at least two AP Top 25 teams (FSU, Indiana) this season. These matchups accounted for two of UF’s losses while the other came on the road at undefeated Kansas.
  • Florida has held its opponent to under 35 percent shooting five times already this season, a season ago they accomplished this just four times. The year prior the Gators did this three times and in 2016-17 it only happened six times. Florida ranks top five in the SEC in points allowed.
  • The Gators are outscoring their opponent 162-118 in the second quarter, their best scoring margin in any quarter so far this season. Florida has won seven of its nine second quarters this season.
  • Sophomore guard Emanuely de Oliveira, after missing the first seven games of the season with an injury, has returned to the Florida rotation and appeared in the last two games.
  • Redshirt-junior guard Kiki Smith leads the team in total points scored and assists and has added 10 or more points in seven of the Gators’ nine games.
  • The Gators hold a 10-7 edge against Southern Conference teams.
  • Against Mercer, the Gators are expected to don their orange jerseys. Last season, Florida posted a 6-3 record when wearing its orange threads.

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