Florida tips off women's basketball season Wednesday

Special to Gatorsports.com

The Florida women's basketball team tips off its 2020-21 season at 1 p.m. today against Grambling State at Exactech Arena at the O'Connell Center.

The squads meet for their respective season openers for the second straight season. The contest will be streamed live on SEC Network+ and on AM-850 and 98.1-FM.

Coach Cam Newbauer enters his fourth season in Gainesville after leading a seven-win turnaround and guiding the Gators to their first .500 finish (15-15) in four years a season ago.

With Preseason All-SEC selection Lavender Briggs, Nina Rickards, Kristina Moore and senior point guard Kiki Smith all back in the fold, UF is one of just four SEC squads to return four or more starters this year. The Gators, who led the SEC in minutes played by underclassmen a season ago, return six players from last year's unit. Florida notched a seven-win improvement last season and doubled its conference win total. 

The Gators are one of just six teams in the league to return their top two scorers with Briggs (15 points per game) and Smith (11.9 points per game).

Briggs is poised for another strong season in 2020-21 after a strong debut campaign with the Gators. The Utah native tallied at least 10 points in 26 of her 29 games played and scored 435 points, the fifth-most by a UF freshman in program history.

Smith, who finished last season averaging 11.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists, took a big step forward as a redshirt-junior a year ago. Setting the tone with her supreme quickness and diligent point guard mindset, Smith has led the squad in assists the last two seasons.

The veteran Moore, who has started all 50 games that she has played in at UF, also returns to the lineup along with the sophomore Rickards, who shot a team-best 41.2 percent from three-point range during SEC play in 2019-20.

After missing the entire 2019-20 campaign, redshirt-senior guard Danielle Rainey returns to the court for UF. Rainey, who after transferring in from TCU, averaged 8.2 points per game for the Gators in the 2018-19 season. A shooter with a veteran's offensive game, Rainey scored 10 or more points seven times and started nine games for the Gators during her lone season of competition.

Canadian Faith Dut, who earned more and more playing time as her rookie season progressed, is expected to provide heavy minutes at the forward position for the Gators.

In addition to Florida's core of returning talent, it also features a bevy of incoming prospects. Freshman forward Jordyn Merritt, the highest-ranked recruit to sign with Florida since 2013, headlines the group and figures to factor in heavily to the Gators' plans. Fellow rookies Brynn Farrell and 6-foot-5 forward Floor Toonders also will make their Florida debut today.

The UF roster features the services of two graduate transfers in 6-foot-4 center Emily Sullivan (North Carolina) and wing player Cydnee Kinslow (Long Beach State). Redshirt-sophomore Yasmeen Chang also joined the Gators via the transfer portal and at this point is expected to sit out the 2020-21 season due to NCAA transfer regulations.

Following their tussle with the Tigers, Florida resumes play Sunday when it travels to Florida State. The Gators and Seminoles will meet for the 77th time when they square off in Tallahassee. The Gators hold a 42-34 edge in the all-time series against the Seminoles, which dates back to 1975, but have dropped the last four.