By Joel FitzPatrick/USA TODAY NETWORK
Greenville, SC – Although Florida’s season (baring an NIT birth) didn’t end as hoped, with a 73-59 loss to LSU in the second round of the Southeastern Conference Women’s Tournament, the future remains bright for the Gators.
During the previous two seasons, Florida tallied a total of 19 victories. This season, the program notched 15.
The Gators posted six conference wins during those two seasons, a total that was matched this year. Two of those victories were over top 25 teams, Kentucky and Arkansas, marking the first time the school had accomplished the feat in four years.
“Overall, we won as many conference games as we did the previous two years,” Coach Cam Newbauer said. “I was hoping we would get to day three (of the tournament) this year. We just aren’t there yet.”
Among those returning will be Lavender Briggs, who as a freshman this season ranked among the school’s best-ever newcomers in points scored. The Utah native led the team in scoring with nearly 15 points per contest, was second in scoring among freshmen in the conference, and posted 19 double-doubles, the most by a Florida freshman in 19 years.
“That’s a freshman who led the conference in minutes,” Newbauer said. “She felt like we were disrespected this year. That kid has fire. I wish we had more who had that fire and passion all the time. I hope she continues to do what she is, because that is a great building block right there.”
In the tournament loss to LSU, Briggs had 14 of the team’s 24 first half points, and finished the contest with a game-high 22 points.
“We started off the season pretty good, and continued to get better,” Briggs said. “In the end, we didn’t finish how we wanted to or how we thought we could. That is a lack of discipline and focus by us.”
Kiara Smith is also expected back for her senior season. Smith was second on the team in scoring with 12.1 points per game (up from seven a season ago) and scored a career-high 26 in the upset win over Arkansas.
With nearly his entire team ready to return and a major building block in Briggs, Newbauer expects the program to continue its upswing next season.
“I am proud of where we were, grateful for where we are, and excited about where we are going,” Newbauer said. “I think we are good enough and deserving to be in the postseason. As a coach, you want to play and build for the future. We have a room full of workers and dreamers. It makes it a lot of fun to show up every day to work with them.”
Note: At 15-15, Florida is postseason eligible for the first time since the 2015-16 campaign. With hopes of qualification into the WNIT, Florida awaits the event’s selection announcement which is slated for Monday, March 16.