Impressive Fourth Quarter Launches Gators Past Rattlers

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Four Gators scored in double-figures and Florida pulled-away late on Monday evening to take down Florida A&M, 83-55, in the 2022-23 season-opener.
The Gators (1-0, 0-0 SEC) were led by Leilani Correa who came off the bench to score 18 points. KK DeansRa Shaya Kyle and Jordyn Merritt all scored 15 points as well for the Gators who shot 28-of-77 (36.4%) from the field and 9-of-31 (29%) from three-point range. The UF bench outscored the Florida A&M’s (0-1, 0-0 SWAC) bench, 41-7.
Of the 28 made shots, 19 were assisted on, as Deans and Alberte Rimdal each dished out five assists and Nina Rickards contributed four.
On the glass, the Orange & Blue held a 47-39 advantage over the opposition, including an impressive 21 offensive rebounds. Merritt secured her double-double with 10 rebounds to lead the Gators, while Correa and Kyle each chipped-in five.
Defensively Florida forced 28 turnovers, resulting in 18 steals, led by Rickards’ five, matching her career-best. Correa and Rimdal each forced four as the defensive pressure bothered the Rattlers, resulting in a 28-7 points-off-turnovers lead for the Orange & Blue.
The Rattlers were led by Dylan Horton who ended her evening with 20 points, four rebounds and three assists.
Florida A&M wasted no time getting the offense going inside of the O’Connell Center, beginning the game on an 8-0 run. Needing a spark, Correa checked-in at the 6:51 mark and immediately made her mark, forcing a turnover and delivering a dime to Merritt for UF’s first points.
On her next possession, Correa again came up with a steal and earned two-points at the line. The senior continued to impress, evening the game at 10 with a triple with 5:04 left in the period off of a pass from Rickards on the fast break. Florida’s first lead of the evening came with 48 seconds left, 20-18, as Faith Dut put-in an easy lay-up after Jeriah Warren set her up from the corner. The Gators, who forced nine first quarter turnovers, took a 25-18 lead into the break after a triple from Deans with under 12 seconds left.
The Orange & Blue opened-up their first double digit lead of the game with 7:58 on the clock in the second frame, 30-20, after stingy defense from Rickards up top led to a Kyle layup. Florida A&M responded with another triple to remain within seven, but UF’s double-digit lead was reached once again with 5:29 on the clock after Correa knocked down a free throw, and that would be as close as the Rattlers would get in the half, with the Gators taking a 41-30 lead into halftime.
Florida A&M managed to trim the lead to five with 6:47 remaining in the third quarter, using a 6-0 run to close the gap. Merritt would put a stop to the opposing spurt, connecting from deep with 6:18 on the clock to push the lead back to 46-38. On the very next possession, it would again be Merritt from deep to give the Gators an 11-point lead.
Taliyah Wyche managed to once again push the UF lead to 10 after an easy lay-in at the 4:40 mark, helping the Orange & Blue hold momentum for a 59-48 advantage with one quarter left in the game.
The Rattlers pulled within nine early in the fourth quarter, but that was as close as the opposition would get, with the Gators using a 20-0 run to open up a 79-50 lead deep into the fourth quarter. In the end, it would be Florida earning the 83-55 victory inside Exactech Arena on Monday, helped by 10 points from Kyle in the fourth quarter and a dominant 24-7 effort over the final 10 minutes.
Up Next
The Gators will remain at home on Sunday, Nov. 13 for a 2 p.m. ET tipoff with UNC Asheville on SEC Network. Sunday’s matchup will mark the return of Sundae Sundays and veterans will receive free admission.
Head Coach Kelly Rae Finley
On the difference in the fourth quarter…
“I think we just loosened up to be honest with you. I was really pleased with our effort. I saw struggle and fight through a lot of things. I don’t think it was anybody’s best game tonight, that’s a great sign for us as far as I’m concerned. I was really proud of the effort, the resiliency, our mentality. Thought we weren’t as sharp as we needed to be, or as we have been in practice with our transitions. We were getting snagged from one play, you know thinking it was good or bad or ‘oh geez I just made a mistake,’ and the game was simply too fast. You know we got 77 shots tonight, so a 77 possession game, that’s a lot. That’s a pretty good pace to a game and so I think it was good for us to just feel that. To struggle on offense a little bit, really have our defense have to propel us. Their zone was aggressive and that fourth quarter I felt like we really finally kind of settled in. We were patient with our shots. We shared the ball. We were able to see things a little bit better on the offensive end of the floor.”
On what was said to help loosen the team up…
“Yeah! Stop looking at me. Start doing what you know how to do. Our team is extremely capable. We as a coaching staff believe in them 100% and that will never waver. But just I think the message was we’re not going to go out there and score point for you. There’s not a magic offense, you know how to make play you’re capable of everything that you are being asked to do. Relax your mind and now go take ownership of your team and that’s what you saw in the fourth quarter I think.”
Senior Guard, Leilani Correa
On her debut…
“It felt really good to be out there. I love my teammates. I love playing with them. Coach challenges me, more than I have been challenged in my life, but it’s a good challenge and she always just lets me perform and that makes me want to perform. My teammates always expect me to perform so that makes me want to perform. It’s just a great atmosphere. The fans, oh my goodness. It’s just really great to be a part of something.”
Junior Forward, Jordyn Merritt
On if there is added pressure to be a leader…
“Yes, in a good way though. I just feel like we have a lot of people on the team who are capable of being leaders and like I said we really take turns sharing that responsibility. It’s not one designated person that is a leader the whole entire time, it’s just depending on the day everyone’s having, the energy in the gym, but I know for me specifically that it’s an area that I am working on. So, I feel like those times when I am on the court with two or three new people, I just got to make sure we are all on the same page and we know what to expect and what we need to do to perform to the best of our ability.”
– Florida moves to 30-19 all-time in season-openers and 18-5 since the year 2000.
– In home-openers, the Gators now boast a 38-11 mark.
– Against Florida A&M, UF improves to 11-5, including a four-game win streak.
– Four scored in double-figures in a season-opener for the first time since the 2016 season when the Gators defeated South Alabama, 85-33.
– The 21 offensive rebounds are the most in a game for the Orange & Blue since Jan. 31, 2021 when Florida also pulled-down 21 at Tennessee.
– The 31 attempts from the Gators from behind the arc are tied for the seventh-most by UF at home.