Lockdown Defense Gives Gators Dominant Win over Vanderbilt

A strong defensive effort from Florida women’s basketball got the Gators back into the win column on Sunday afternoon after defeating Vanderbilt, 73-55, inside Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
A quartet of Gators (13-7, 2-5 SEC) finished in double-figures scoring, led by Nina Rickards with 15 points. Alberte Rimdal (14), Ra Shaya Kyle (13) and Leilani Correa (10) also contributed a double-digit effort. Vanderbilt (9-12, 0-7 SEC) was led by Ciaja Harbison with 18 points, five steals and four rebounds.
The Gators asserted their will in the paint, finishing with an important 48-24 advantage in points in the paint over the Commodores en route to a 30-of-65 (46.2%) shooting effort from the floor while connecting on just 2-of-19 (10.5%) from behind the arc. A key to the offensive success, Florida assisted on 16 of their made baskets, led by five from KK Deans.
Vanderbilt was unable to get much going offensively thanks to a strong defensive effort from the Orange & Blue, shooting just 19-of-68 (27.9%) from the floor and 6-of-19 (31.6%) from deep.
On the glass, UF ended with an advantage thanks to an an aggressive effort, outrebounding the Commodores 46-38 for the game. A career-best 10 rebounds by Faith Dut led the way, while Kyle added seven and Correa and Deans each pulled-down six of their own.
The Gators raced out to a strong start on Sunday afternoon, getting back-to-back jumpers from Rickards and a layup from Rimdal to take a 6-0 lead. Vanderbilt closed the gap back to three with 1:24 left on the clock, but a nine-point performance from Rickards in the opening 10 minutes helped the Gators to a 17-11 advantage after one. The Florida defense was tough to start the game, limiting Vanderbilt to 4-of-16 from the field and just 1-of-5 from long range.
Jordyn Merritt, in her first appearance since Houston on Nov. 26, immediately made an impact for the Orange & Blue, starting the second quarter with a dish to Rickards before picking-up her first bucket of the game at the 8:04 mark, giving UF a 23-14 advantage.
The floodgates opened for Florida’s offense following Merritt’s bucket, utilizing an 15-2 run to gain a 20-point advantage, 36-16, with 3:19 left in the half. Florida outscored the Commodores 25-10 in the second quarter to take a commanding 42-21 lead into the second half. Rickards led all scorers with 15 points while UF kept Vanderbilt to just 7-of-29 shooting and 2-of-10 from three-point range for the half.
It was much of the same to start the second half for both teams as the Gators continued to assert their dominance, putting together a 7-0 run at the beginning of the third to extend their lead to 25, 50-25, with 6:59 remaining. The Commodores managed to put together a 7-0 run of their own to end the third quarter, however, as the Gators took a 54-37 lead into the final frame.
A pair of triples helped Vanderbilt pull within 13 with 6:38 remaining in the game, but a quick 8-0 response from the Orange & Blue put the game out of reach for good, with the Gators running away for a 73-55 victory.
Up Next
The Gators will hit the road in just over a week, head to Auburn for a Jan. 30 matchup on SEC Network.
Head Coach Kelly Rae Finley
On Sunday’s ball movement…
“Sixteen assists is probably the highest we have had in a while. I think it’s feel-good basketball when everybody gets a touch and you’re confident. I thought today we had a lot of confidence and trust in each other and that really showed on the court.” 
On what the win means…
“It’s obviously always good when you win, but our losses have taught us a lot. Sometimes out of the greatest challenges come the greatest opportunities, if you choose to look at them that way, and that’s how this group operates. I’m encouraged by their commitment to improving and growing and to our staff’s commitment to teaching, and I think that that showed tonight. I think that there’s a lot of teams that, when they hit adversity, they make different choices, and I am proud of the choices that our team has made.” 
Senior Guard Nina Rickards
On Jordyn Merritt’s return to the court…
“We were very excited. I mean, Jordyn’s been around in practice, warm-ups and stuff like that, so just to have her actually on the court during the game is a great feeling. She’s our sister, it’s more than basketball, so just seeing her happy and giving it her all to help us win means a lot.”
On holding-off Vanderbilt’s second half run…
“Basketball is a game of runs and we knew Vanderbilt was eventually going to go on their run. When the media was called we got together, huddled, and said that this is usually the issue for us, right here. Today’s the day we have the opportunity to change it, and we just stayed together, we locked-in and got the job done.”
– The Gators earn their 10th victory in Gainesville against Vanderbilt, moving the all-time series history to 34-27 in favor of the Commodores.
– Sunday’s victory marks the sixth win in seven attempts over Vanderbilt for the Gators.
– For the second time this season, four Gators grabbed at least six rebounds, marking the first time since the 2020-21 season that the Gators have multiple games in a season with four players recording six boards.
– The Gators improve to 22-0 under Kelly Rae Finley when holding opponents to 60 points or less.
– With 10 rebounds, Dut now boasts a new career-best.
– The duo of Deans and Rimdal now own 75 triples this season, the third-most by a pair in the SEC.