Interim no longer: Florida Gators name Kelly Rae Finley women's basketball head coach

Graham Hall
Gator Sports
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Ahead of the SEC Tournament in Nashville, the Florida women’s basketball program has promoted Kelly Rae Finley from interim head coach to head coach, the UAA announced Monday. 

As UF’s interim head coach, Finley led the Gators to a 20-win season, the program’s first since the 2015-16 campaign. 

The Gators (20-9, 10-6 SEC) secured the No. 5 seed in the SEC tournament and will play Thursday at approximately 1:30 p.m. against the winner of Wednesday’s matchup between Vanderbilt and Texas A&M. 

"I'm humbled to be given the opportunity to lead our women's basketball program and I believe that together we will be able to achieve great things," Finley said. "I'm forever grateful for our staff and student-athletes for their dedication to growing this program and I look forward to continuing on this journey."

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Finley, 36, joined the UF program prior to the 2017-18 season as an assistant coach, a role she would remain in for the 2018-19 campaign. She was elevated to assistant head coach the following year before becoming the program’s interim head coach in July 2021 in the wake of former head coach Cam Newbauer’s dismissal

Despite controversy and some uncertainty — the team’s returning leading scorer, Lavender Briggs, initially entered her name in the NCAA’s transfer portal before returning, only to suffer a season-ending injury in the first week of the season — the Gators secured double-digit conference victories this season. Finley was named one of 15 finalists for the Naismith Coach of the Year Award as a result of the Gators' noticeable improvement. 

In an attempt to keep the focus on the Gators, Finley opted to minimize the discussion of the interim tag, saying it took away from the team’s accomplishments on the court.

Although the postseason remains the immediate priority, the program has taken an important step in the build-up: locking up its head coach for the future. 

Florida Gators head coach Kelly Finley gestures during the first half against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Billy Donovan Court at Exactech Arena in Gainesville, on Feb. 17, 2022.

"Within this program, we strive to create a sustainable and competitive environment that encourages collaboration, fosters creativity and empowers our young women to achieve growth and success during their time at Florida and beyond," Finley said. 

Prior to her time in Florida, Finley had coaching stints at Arizona (2016-17), Colorado (2012-16) and Harvard (2009-12). At Arizona, Finley helped to bring in the No. 34 recruiting class in the nation and helped Colorado achieve a top-25 ranked class in 2015. At Harvard, Finley assisted in the signing of Temitop Fagbenle, the Ivy League’s first McDonald’s All-American and second Olympian.

Finley, an Edina, Minnesota native, graduated from Colorado State in 2008 where she earned Mountain West Conference Scholar-Athlete honors as a member of the women’s basketball team.

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