Gators Win Thriller Over Wofford in WNIT First Round

 Florida women’s basketball was able to hold-on for a thrilling 66-63 victory over Southern Conference regular season champion, Wofford, in the opening round of the Women’s NIT on Thursday evening.
The Gators (17-14) were led by a season-high effort of 24 points from Leilani Correa, in addition to three steals. Nina Rickards, who score her 1,000th-point against the Terriers (22-10), ended her evening with 18 points, three rebounds and three steals, while KK Deans tallied 15 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Florida shot 25-of-53 (47.2%) from the field and 5-of-23 (21.7%) from deep while limiting Wofford to 24-of-67 (35.8%) from the floor and 9-of-29 (31%) from long range. The Terriers, who came into Thursday’s contest averaging just 10 turnovers a game, were bothered by Florida’s length, turning the ball over 19 times with four Gators recording three steals, resulting in a 20-9 points-off-turnovers advantage for the Orange & Blue.
Utilizing the size advantage, the Gators swatted six shots, with Correa and Jeriah Warren each securing two. The Terriers controlled the boards, however, with a 45-28 advantage, including 20 offensive rebounds while limiting UF to just four.
Wofford was led by Rachael Rose with 19 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals.
The Terriers started hot from the field, knocking down two of their first three attempts from deep to take a 6-0 advantage. Wofford continued to hold the lead at the 6:13 mark, 10-5, before back-to-back scoop-and-scores from Rickards and Deans pulled the Gators within one at 10-9. Florida’s first lead of the game came with 2:58 on the clock when Deans drained a triple from the top of the key, while Correa followed with another triple on the next possession, extending Florida’s run to 10-0.
The Gators ended the first period on a 17-0 run, taking a 22-10 lead into the second quarter. Over the last 6:13 of the opening frame, UF held the Terriers scoreless while forcing seven turnovers during that span.
Florida’s lead would peak at 14 in the second quarter prior to a 10-0 Wofford run that brought the SoCon regular season champions back within four, 24-20. Correa put an end to Wofford’s streak with a fast break layup at the 4:58 mark, but the Terriers had an immediate answer to remain within four.
A quick 4-0 spurt from Rickards and Correa once again extended Florida’s lead to eight with under three minutes remaining before Wofford, in similar fashion to how they began the second frame, closed on a 7-0 run to make it a one-point game heading into halftime at 30-29.
The Gators took a 34-32 lead, thanks to back-to-back jumpers from Rickards, with 7:37 left in the third quarter. Their advantage didn’t last long, however, as the Terriers put together an 11-2 run to take their biggest lead of the game, 43-36, with 5:07 on the clock.
Trailing by five at the 4:19 mark, the Gators went on a 9-3 run, capped off by another pull-up jumper from Rickards, to regain the lead at 49-48. While Wofford retook the lead with 40 seconds left, and-one opportunity from Correa would give Florida a 52-50 lead heading into the final 10 minutes of the game.
Wofford opened the final frame with their seventh triple of the game to briefly take a one-point edge, but a 6-0 run, featuring four points from Warren and Rickards’ 1,000th-career point, gave Florida a 58-53 lead at the 6:56 mark. Continuing with the theme of the game, the Terriers fought back to even the game at 58 just a minute later.
Both squads went nearly three minutes without a bucket before Deans played hero ball and drained a fadeaway as the shot clock expired to give Florida a 62-60 lead with 52 seconds left in the game. Correa knocked-down two free throws to make it 64-60, but Jackie Carman drained a three on the other end to pull back within one at 64-63 with 13 seconds remaining. It would again be Correa who, with ice in her veins, knocked down a pair of free throws a second later to secure the 66-63 victory.
Up Next
The Gators will hit the road for the second round of the WNIT, traveling to Winston-Salem, N.C., for a 6 p.m. ET matchup with Wake Forest on Monday, March 20.
Head Coach Kelly Rae Finley
On Thursday’s game…
“That team averages 10 turnovers a game, I thought it was really our defensive intensity that set the tone for us. I thought we shot the ball particularly well and I challenged our team at halftime to see if we could only turn it over two times in the second half, and that’s what we did. I thought that was a difference in the game. It’s really fun to coach this team because they’re so versatile and when you play a team that shoots the three as well as Wofford does, we have tremendous respect for that team and coaching staff. They play extremely hard, they’re very talented and skilled, and their coaching staff has them very-well prepared.”
On Nina scoring her 1,000th-careeer point…
“It was amazing to see Nina score her 1,000th point. She’s played a lot of games and a lot of minutes in that arena, and so to be able to celebrate that with her tonight was an added bonus.”
On KK Deans’ shot to beat the clock late in the fourth…
“That was probably the fifth, sixth, maybe eighth time, I don’t know, this season that she did that late in the shot clock. She had taken some good shots and Nina had taken some really good shots. We got some shots and looks out of timeouts that were great looks that maybe didn’t fall, but for that one to fall it maybe opened the bucket up for us just a little bit.”
Senior Guard Nina Rickards
On making the most of this opportunity in the postseason…
“I think it’s very important. You know, we want to get a feel for what it’s like to play in late March. Even though it’s not the NCAA Tournament, we’re still going to take this opportunity and try to win it all. It’s very important for my younger teammates and I to get this experience and to compete. There’s really good teams in the WNIT, so we’re going to take it and run with it, and it should be fun.”
On scoring her 1,000th-point with Florida…
It’s very special. I actually didn’t know I was that close until I was reminded by some of my teammates this week. I really wasn’t focusing on that this game, I really just wanted to get the win and it happened. I was playing hard and it happened, so it’s exciting to know that all the work I’ve put in, I’ve been here all four years, is paying off and showing. I’m glad to be here…Forever a Gator.”
– The Gators improve to 3-0 all-time against the Terriers.
– Florida also moves to 16-8 all-time in the WNIT, which includes a 6-3 mark in the first round of the tournament.
– The Gators have never lost when hosting a WNIT game, now boasting a 5-0 record.
– Nina Rickards became the 27th member of the 1,000-point club after a layup with 6:56 remaining in the fourth quarter.
– KK Deans is now alone in 11th for the most threes in an individual season by a Gator, connecting on 68.  
– She is also alone in fifth for the most threes by a senior in a single season in Florida history.
– Leilani Correa’s 24 points match a season-best.
– Jeriah Warren matched a career-high with two blocks.
– Warren also matched a career-high with three steals.