Gators Fall to Kentucky in Opening Round of SEC Tournament

Playing with a shortened bench in the second half, Florida women’s basketball battled but couldn’t overcome Kentucky in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, falling 72-57 on Wednesday afternoon.
Nina Rickards led the Gators (16-14, 5-11 SEC) with 19 points, five rebounds and three steals, while sophomore Alberte Rimdal put up 15 points with six rebounds and two steals. Florida had a tough day from the floor, ending 22-of-70 (31.4%) and 4-of-19 (21.1%) from three-point range. Jordyn Merritt led a strong effort sharing the ball with six assists, as UF assisted on 13 of their 22 made shots.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Orange & Blue forced 18 turnovers that resulted in eight steals, led by Rickards and Merritt who both tallied three. The Wildcats (11-18, 2-14 SEC) ended their afternoon shooting 27-of-61 (44.3%) from the field and just 3-of-15 (20%) from behind the arc. Kentucky was led by Robyn Benton with 20 points and Adebola Adeyeye, who scored 11 points and collected 17 rebounds.
The Wildcats held the edge on the glass, recording a 45-39 advantage for the game. Merritt pulled-down eight boards for the Gators, a team-high, as Rimdal and Rickards each grabbed six and five, respectively.
Florida didn’t shy away from the post early in Wednesday’s first round game, scoring their first eight points in the paint or at the free throw line. Rimdal paced the Gators in the opening minutes, getting to the bucket twice for four points, but Kentucky had an answer each time to take a 9-8 lead into the first media break with 4:39 left in the quarter.
The Gators retook the lead immediately out of the media timeout thanks to a dart from from Kyle to Leilani Correa inside for the easy two. A quick 9-0 response from Kentucky put the opposition back in front, 18-10, with 2:17 showing on the clock. Tatyana Wyche put an end to the run with a put-back bucket just under a minute later, but the Wildcats took an 18-12 advantage into the second frame.
Kentucky took a 22-14 lead with 5:30 left in the game following a Jada Walker layup, but the Gators would have to play without Kyle, Faith Dut, Taliyah and Tatyana Wyche after tempers flared at the 5:26 mark of the second quarter. The Wildcats were without Cassidy Rowe, Eniya Russell, Zennia Thomas and Saniah Tyler after the altercation as well.
Coming out of the extended break, the Orange & Blue closed the half on a 7-0 run to shrink the deficit to just one, 22-21, heading into halftime. The Wildcats were held to just 2-of-11 (18.2%) from the floor during the second period.
The Wildcats used a 6-0 spurt near the beginning of the second half to regain an eight-point advantage, 32-24, with 7:23 on the clock. A Merritt layup and an and-one opportunity from Deans two minutes later kept UF within striking distance at 32-29. Toughness began to shine for the Gators with 2:30 left in the period, using back-to-back three-point plays from Rimdal and Rickards to take the lead, 41-39. Kentucky, however, would end the third with the final four points, taking a 43-41 lead into the final 10 minutes.
Rimdal quickly pushed the Gators back into the lead right away to start the fourth, converting another and-one to give Florida a 44-43 edge. The teams would go back-and-forth over the next two minutes, but Kentucky used an 11-4 advantage to take a 54-48 lead at the 5:25 mark of the final stanza. A 10-0 run from 3:51-1:21 of the fourth quarter helped the Wildcats seal the win, taking a 72-57 victory.