Florida women's basketball to play UCF in NCAA Tournament

Graham Hall
Gator Sports

The Florida women’s basketball team was selected Sunday for the NCAA Tournament, marking the program’s first invitation since the 2015-16 season.

The 10th-seeded Gators will open the tournament against another Florida team — UCF, a No. 7 seed — in Storrs, Connecticut. The winner would likely face No. 2 UConn on its home court. 

The 2022 season marks the first time the women’s NCAA Tournament will expand to 68 teams from 64, matching the men’s tournament, which began including 68 teams in 2011.

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Florida exceeded expectations under Kelly Rae Finley, who was elevated to interim head coach in July following the dismissal of Cameron Newbauer. Under Finley, the Gators managed to win 20 games for the first time since the Amanda Butler era despite losing leading scorer Lavender Briggs to a season-ending injury. 

Briggs would later enter her name in the NCAA’s transfer portal for the second time in four months, but the Gators didn’t experience a significant drop-off in her absence.

Led by sixth-year guard Kiara Smith, in addition to strong contributions from forward Jordyn Merritt, guard Zippy Broughton and All-SEC Freshman Alberte Rimdal, the Gators finished 20-9, an eight-win improvement from the 2020-21 campaign.

At the conclusion of the regular season, Finley, one of 10 semifinalists for the Naismith Coach of the Year award, signed a five-year deal as the program’s head coach. 

The future of the women’s program appears bright, but recent weeks have proven difficult. 

After losing its final three contests of the regular season, Florida lost Smith indefinitely due to a knee injury suffered March 3 in UF’s 53-52 comeback victory over Vanderbilt.

In their first game without Smith in nearly four years, the Gators suffered a 10-point loss to Ole Miss in the third round of the SEC Tournament, giving them a 1-4 record since Feb. 20. 

The three-week stretch prior to the NCAA Tournament has been less than desirable for Florida, though it wouldn’t be the first time this season the Gators have rallied in the face of adversity.