Florida upsets Ole’ Miss 78-68

Paced by Kiki Smith’s 25 points, the University of Florida women’s basketball team fought hard for a 78-68 victory Sunday over Ole Miss in Oxford, collecting its second-straight SEC win.

After trailing 37-33 at the half Florida’s offense exploded in the third quarter, outscoring the Rebels 25-12. The Gators’ surge would be the story of the game as they never relinquished their lead following their third quarter run.

The senior guard Smith was terrific, scoring over 20 points for the third-straight game. Smith’s excellence was on full display in the third quarter when she recorded 13 points and helped the Gators’ garner the game’s momentum.

Winning for the first time when trailing at the half, Florida rallied together without its fourth-year head coach Cam Newbauer at the helm. Newbauer did not travel and missed the game due to health and safety protocols. Making her head coaching debut, associate head coach Kelly Rae Finley served as Florida’s acting head coach for the contest. Finley’s unexpected debut will certainly be a memorable one as the Gators broke through for their first win on the road in league play.

Registering its third-straight win over Ole Miss and posting a victory in Oxford for the first time since 2016, UF employed a total team effort with eight different players scoring in the game.

Finishing in double figures for the 14th time this season, Lavender Briggs, who sealed last season’s meeting between the programs with a game-winning steal, tallied 16 points, including 12 in the second half. Briggs was just 2-for-7 in the first but responded with a big second half helping the Gators’ nab their second conference win. Totaling double figures for the sixth time this season, Nina Rickards posted a solid all-around game with 10 points, nine rebounds and three assists. Smith, who has really upped her play as of late, finished 8-of-15 from the floor and dished out three assists.

In a competitive game between two squads that entered the game in search of their second conference victory, Florida shot 48.2 percent from the floor and made eight of its 16 attempts from three-point range. The Gators also shot it well from the charity stripe, knocking down 16-of-19. UF’s 84.2 percent mark from the free throw line was a new season best.

In game that saw seven lead changes and six ties, Florida won three of the four quarters with Ole Miss winning just the second at 27-20.

Shakira Austin, the 6-foot-5 forward and Maryland transfer, scored 10 points and added seven rebounds for the Rebels while Valerie Nesbitt scored a team-best 18 and dished our four assists.

Positing back-to-back SEC wins for the first time since February of 2020, UF led by as many as 15 and for over 22 minutes in the contest.

Florida worked for some quality looks early on but connected on just one of its first seven field goal tries. Both teams endured some offensive struggles out of the gates, after a week away from competition, and the score stood at 6-4 in favor of Ole Miss at the first media timeout. The game’s pace picked up and Florida turned offense to defense to grab a 10-8 lead. Florida’s run surged to 7-0 after a three-pointer from the wing from Danielle Rainey, but Ole Miss’ Nesbitt made a pull-up jumper at the end of the first quarter to make it 13-10. Florida finished the quarter 6-of-16 from the floor after starting 1-of-7.

Ole Miss then countered with a run that originated at the end of the first stanza and extended into the second. Ole Miss continued to play with the momentum at its back and held a 24-21 advantage at the second quarter media timeout after feeding its star forward Austin early and often. The Rebels made seven of their first 11 shots in the quarter and Austin had eight points in the first five minutes. Following a sluggish first quarter, both offensive units ignited in quarter two. Ole Miss outscored Florida 27-20 in the frame, equipping it with a 37-33 lead at the half.

Eight different Gators scored in the first half, paced by Smith’s nine. Florida shot a crisp 46.7 percent in the second but Ole Miss checked in at a 66.7 percent clip.

Florida came out reenergized following the intermission, making its first three shots of the third quarter and led 40-37 after a 7-0 run. A three-pointer from Smith put Florida ahead 38-37 with 8:44 on the clock. From this point forward the Gators would never trail.

UF’s run grew to 10-0 after a three-pointer from the wing from Smith prompted the Ole Miss timeout. Out of the timeout, the Rebels scored five in a row to trim UF’s sudden lead back to 43-42.

Smith scored 10 of UF’s first 14 points and 13 of its first 18 in the second half, taking over the game. The Rebels went scoreless for nearly three minutes as the Gators began to add some distance between themselves and the Rebels. A driving layup by Briggs gave Florida a 56-47 lead which cause Ole Miss to take its third timeout of the game with 1:22 in the third.

After outscoring the Rebels 25-12 in the third, Florida led 58-49 heading into the final quarter.

In the fourth, Florida continued to control the game and the tempo, outpacing the Rebels 20-19. UF’s edge swelled to as large as 15 after a 7-0 run with under four minutes to play. Briggs, Rickards and freshman Jordyn Merrit each recorded five points in the quarter.