Gators Drop Sunday Contest to Kentucky

Florida women’s basketball fell in a heartbreaker on Sunday afternoon to Kentucky, 81-75, after a second-half surge from the Wildcats.
The Gators (12-6, 1-4 SEC) were led by KK Deans with 21 points, which included five triples, while Nina Rickards added 18 and Ra Shaya Kyle tallied 13 points. The Gators shot 27-of-64 (42.2%) for the game and 6-of-18 (33.3%) from three-point range. At the free throw line, UF finished with a 15-of-28 (53.6%) clip.
Kentucky (9-9, 1-5 SEC) ended their evening shooting 28-of-70 (40%) from the field, but were held to just 2-of-16 (12.5%) shooting from deep by the Orange & Blue. The Gators forced 15 turnovers inside Exactech Arena, resulting in six steals that included four from Leilani Correa. Robyn Benton ended with 29 points and five rebounds to lead the Wildcats.
On the glass, Florida held a 45-39 advantage over their opponent, featuring eight boards from both Deans and Kyle, marking a season-best for Deans. Jeriah Warren also played a key role in the rebounding success, grabbing seven of her own. Sixteen of Florida’s rebounds came on the offensive end, helping UF to a 40-38 edge in points in the paint.
Florida established their inside presence early in Sunday’s contest, scoring their first six points of the game in the paint after buckets from Faith Dut and Kyle. Their aggressiveness paved the way for a 10-8 advantage at the first media break. A 7-0 run midway through the period extended UF’s lead to 15-8 before the Gators took an 18-10 lead into the second quarter.
A jumper by Rickards with three seconds left on the clock in the opening frame marked the first field goal outside of the paint for the Gators of the game, while the Orange & Blue held Kentucky to 4-of-17 (23.5%) shooting in the first.
Deans was unconscious to start the second quarter, sinking her first four attempts from long range to extend Florida’s lead to 16 with 8:03 left in the half. The Wildcats turned-up their defensive intensity following Deans’ fourth triple, holding the Gators scoreless for just under four minutes to cut their deficit to 30-21.
Correa, in her first appearance since Dec. 11, put an end to the drought with a driving layup at the 4:17 mark, but Kentucky used a 13-2 run to make it just a five-point UF lead with 2:09 remaining in the half. The Gators took a 36-30 lead into halftime.
With the lead trimmed to three with 6:18 remaining in the third, freshman Myka Perry provided a much-needed spark off the bench, draining a straight-on three to push the UF lead back to six, 44-38. The Wildcats didn’t go away, however, battling back to hold a 53-51 lead over the Orange & Blue with 10 minutes to play.
After a Correa jumper to begin the fourth period, Kentucky put together an 8-0 run to grab their largest lead of the contest, 61-53, with 8:52 left in the contest. Later in the game, trailing 70-62, the Gators put together a 6-0 run to put the pressure on Kentucky, cutting the lead to two points with 2:42 left in the game. That would be as close as UF would get, as UK held on for the 81-75 victory.
Up Next
The Gators head north for their second matchup of the season against Tennessee on Thursday, Jan. 19, at 6:30 p.m. ET. The game will be streamed live on SEC Network+.
Head Coach Kelly Rae Finley
On Sunday’s game against Kentucky…
“It’s hard not to get the result that we want, you know, 28 points in the fourth quarter after holding them to 10 in the first is just a little disappointing because we had worked really hard on improving our fouling situation. We had worked really hard on guarding ball screens, guarding one-on-one and guarding as a team. For that not to happen down the stretch in the fourth quarter, I think it’s okay to be disappointed. It’s the second game in-a-row we’ve had a big lead and let them back in it. Kentucky’s three guards are electric and obviously they had a great scoring night. Hats-off to them. They forced us into 25 turnovers and then we didn’t take care of business on the free throw line. To shoot 53% from the line is uncharacteristic of us. We’re usually up around the mid-70s and that’s kind of the difference in the game right there, but as usual I like our team’s intensity and competitiveness. I like the fight that we play with and we just have to learn how to win.”
On the impact of KK Deans
“They (Kentucky) sent two at her and took her away. That was a big turning point for them from a defensive standpoint, but she’s a great scorer and she shoots a very high percentage from three. She has the ability to create her own shot and she’s a competitor.”
Senior Guard Nina Rickards
On maintaining the defensive effort throughout the game…
“I would say it starts in practice. We just have to be more consistent and focused in practice and keep the same energy and pace that we start the game off with. I think just doing a better job in practice will help us prepare for the court in real-game situations.”
On the team’s bond…
“After every game, win or loss, there’s a lesson learned. We’re just getting more comfortable and used to playing with each other. Even though we didn’t end up with the result we wanted, I think it’s good to learn from each and every game. It’s brings us closer together. We’re going to figure it out and we’re going to get things done as the stretch continues. I’m proud of my team and the effort tonight. We didn’t get the result we wanted, but we’re still making progress and putting things together.”