3 takeaways from Florida Gators' loss to Mississippi in the SEC women's tournament

Mike Organ
Gator Sports

NASHVILLE — Ole Miss did what Vanderbilt couldn't do in the SEC women's basketball tournament.

The No. 4 seeded Rebels held off Florida's comeback in Friday's quarterfinals and claimed a 70-60 win before a crowd of 6,880 at Bridgestone Arena.

The No. 5 seeded Gators trailed Vanderbilt by 14 points in the third quarter Thursday before coming back to win 53-52. Florida's only lead came on the last free throw of the game. The win for Ole Miss (23-7) sends the Rebels into the semifinals for the first time since 1993. They will face No. 1 seed South Carolina Saturday at 4 p.m.

Here are 3 takeaways from Friday's game. 

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Florida's Zippy Broughton (4) looks for a way past Mississippi's Mimi Reid (2) in the first half at the women's Southeastern Conference tournament Friday, March 4, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn.

UF shorthanded without Kiki Smith

Florida started the game without their leading scorer and first team All-SEC guard Kiara Smith, who suffered a knee injury in Thursday's game against Vanderbilt.

Smith, who is using crutches, watched the game Friday on the bench.

Then in the first two minutes of Friday's game sophomore Jordyn Merritt, the Gators' third-leading scorer, was injured after falling on the court. The 6-3 forward headed to the locker room after being helped up. She did not return.

Zipporah Broughton led Florida with 26 points.

When asked about her diagnosis, Smith doesn't reveal any details: “I feel fine, you know. I’m just glad I can still be a part of the team, and I’m proud of them. Our season’s nowhere near over yet. So, you know, I’m just happy I could still be a voice and a leader even though I’m not on the court, I could still bring the same energy that I would bring on the court off the court. I could still say the same things that I would say on the court off the court."

In her announcement on Twitter, she said her time on the court with the Gators "has unfortunately come to an end."

Smith said Friday of being a Gator: “I had a great time. Definitely a lot of ups and downs, but I wouldn’t change it. I don’t regret anything, including this injury. I know that all things happen for a reason. I was supposed to come to Florida, and I’m just glad I was able to be a part of a team who could go down one day as one of the best teams at the University of Florida. I’m glad I made the decision to stay, I’m glad I did while I did while I was there. And I’m just proud of the team and proud of Coach Kelly, I’m proud of just the whole staff and their support of me, and the fans love me, so, yeah, I definitely am very grateful for the time I had at Florida, for sure.” 

No comeback this time

After falling behind 34-25 early in the third quarter the Gators (21-10) started a rally against the Rebels. A pair of 3-pointers helped spark a 14-6 run and the Gators closed the gap to 40-39 with 2:18 left in the third quarter.

Ole Miss, however, regrouped before the end of the quarter. The Rebels, who had not made a 3-pointer, hit two in a row to pull back in front 43-39.

Florida fought back and trimmed the deficit to four points twice in the final five minutes. 

Ole Miss made 12 of its last 14 free throws to hold off the Gators.

"I was really proud of our team’s effort. I thought that we played with a tremendous effort all over the floor," UF coach Kelly Rae Finley said. "People were in different positions and that’s been characteristic of us all season.

"I thought we were extremely focused. I thought we were very locked into our game plan. "I thought we executed and made adjustments on the floor.

Shakira Austin set the tone

Ole Miss' Shakira Austin, a two-time All-SEC performer and Lisa Leslie Award Top-10 finalist, got the Rebels off to a good start.

In the first 15 minutes of the game the 6-foot-5 Maryland transfer made 7 of her first 9 shots, scored 14 points, had four rebounds and four blocks. She scored 12 of Ole Miss' 20 points in the first quarter.

Austin, a two-time All-SEC performer and Lisa Leslie Award top-10 finalist, finished with 27 points, two shy of her career-high 29, along with 13 rebounds and six blocks. 

Graham Hall contributed to this report