Gators Draw NC State, Towson and Wofford in 2021 Preseason WNIT

The University of Florida women’s basketball team will have an opportunity to measure itself against some top-notch competition in the early stages of the 2021-22 campaign as its matchups in the 2021 Preseason WNIT Classic were revealed by the tournament officials Thursday afternoon.
Florida is set to compete in the three-day, round-robin tournament from Nov. 12-15 and will take on Towson, NC State and Wofford with the Wolfpack hosting the festivities in Raleigh, N.C.
For 2021, the Preseason WNIT Classic features two four-team pods and a three-game guarantee, with NC State and Kansas State as hosts. Each site plays a round-robin format, and the final game of the event will have Kansas State playing at NC State on Nov. 19. No champions will be crowned; each pod will have its own all-tournament team.
Florida last took part in the Preseason WNIT back in the 1998-99 season, when it recorded wins over Arkansas State, Baylor and Indiana.
Of their three opponents, the Gators have the most extensive series history with the Wolfpack. Florida holds a 4-2 edge against NC State in matchups dating back to the 1994 season. Against Wofford, UF is 1-0 with the lone meeting occurring back in 2017 and in terms of Towson, when the teams meet in November it will be the first ever game between the programs.
The Gators’ 2021-22 roster is one of the program’s deepest and most experienced in several seasons as Florida welcomes back 87 percent of its scoring, 89 percent of its rebounding, 89 percent of its assists and 85 percent of its minutes played from a year ago. The team features five players who started 18 or more games in the 2020-21 season and eight of UF’s top nine scorers return.
Florida accounts for two of the top three returning scorers in the entire Southeastern Conference as Kiki Smith (18.8 points per game) and Lavender Briggs (19.5 points per game) are both back in the Orange and Blue.
Utilizing her extra year of collegiate eligibility Smith, who became the first player in program history to lead the Gators in points, rebounds and assists for a season, is back as the team’s leader in 2021. Returning from a foot injury which caused her to miss the team’s final eight games, the prolific offensive talent Briggs, will look continue to build on what has been a stellar beginning to her career. The All-SEC Second Team selection averaged 21.8 points per game in SEC play last year, the highest by any Florida player since 1983, and scored 41 points in a game at Arkansas in January.
Rising sophomore Jordyn Merritt, who started UF’s final 10 games and earned an SEC All-Freshman team nod, returns as well. After making her way back from a knee injury, the 6-foot-3 forward closed out the season strong and posted 17 points and 18 rebounds over Charlotte in the Postseason WNIT helping will the Gators to their first win in the postseason in seven years.
With Merritt, and Briggs’ designation in 2020, Florida is one just four SEC programs to feature an all-freshman team selection in the last two seasons.
For the first time in program history, Florida touts three 5-star signees on its roster with Briggs, Merritt and newcomer Zipporah Broughton. Broughton, who spent her first two seasons competing at Rutgers before announcing her transfer to UF in April, was tabbed the Alabama Gatorade Player of the Year in 2018. Fellow newcomer, freshman guard Jeriah Warren, was named the 2021 Louisiana Gatorade Player of the Year last month.
NC State (22-3, 12-2 ACC), which finished ranked No. 7 in the in the USA Today Coaches Poll, advanced to the Sweet 16 in the 2021 NCAA Tournament after earning a No. 1 seed. Elissa Cunane, a 6-foot-5 center is back for her senior year after averaging 16.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest, and Jakia Brown-Turner (13.5 points per game) also returns. The Wolfpack has been featured in the top 10 of the Coaches Poll for three seasons in a row, which ties the longest such streak in program history. NC State has advanced to three-straight Sweet 16’s.
Towson (13-9, 8-6 CAA) returns starters Aleah Nelson (13.5 points per game), Shavonne Smith (12 points per game) and Allie Kubek (8.8 points per game and 7.1 rebounds per game). They will all look to replace the production of 2021 WNBA draft pick, Kionna Jeter who became the first player in program history to accomplish the feat when she was selected by the Las Vegas Aces with the 36h pick.
After advancing to the Southern Conference Tournament championship for the first time in program history in 2021, Wofford (13-11, 7-7 SoCon) welcomes back starters Lilly Hatton (10.5 points per game), Jackie Carman (9.5 points per game) and Niyah Lutz (8.9 points per game). Hatton, a rising junior from Indiana, led the team in scoring last season and earned a spot on the All-SoCon Second Team.
The Preseason WNIT began in its modern format in 1994. It is organized and produced by Triple Crown Sports, a national sports event company based in Fort Collins, Colo. The 16-team Preseason WNIT was originally a single-elimination exempt event, and moved to the current three-game guarantee format in 2007. Throughout the years, more than 200 of the nation’s Division I teams have played in the event, representing all 32 conferences. Recent Preseason WNIT champions include Oregon State (2019), Iowa State (2018), Louisville (2017), Notre Dame (2016), Baylor (2015) and Mississippi State (2014).

The remainder of Florida’s non-conference schedule will be released at a later date. 
2021 Preseason WNIT Classic (NC State) Matchups
Nov. 12
Florida vs. Towson, 4:30 p.m. ET
Wofford vs. NC State, 7 p.m. ET
Nov. 14
Florida vs. NC State, 2 p.m. ET
Towson vs. Wofford, 4:30 p.m. ET
Nov. 15
Wofford vs. Florida, 4:30 p.m. ET
Towson vs. NC State, 7 p.m. ET
Nov. 19
Kansas State at NC State, TBA
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