Florida women's basketball team gearing up for NCAA Tournament showdown with UCF
The Florida women's basketball team begins its journey in the NCAA Tournament Saturday when the 10th-seeded Gators take on the seven seed, UCF.
The Gators (21-10, 10-6 SEC) tip off at 3:30 p.m. at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn. The game will be broadcast on ESPNEWS and local radio AM-850, 98.1-FM.
They are back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2015-16 season, meaning Saturday will mark the first Big Dance for all of UF's roster.
Florida has overcome adversity time and time again, whether it was in the preseason (Cameron Newbauer’s departure), the beginning of the season (Lavender Briggs’ season-ending injury) or at the conclusion of the regular season (1-4 finish and Kiara "Kiki" Smith’s injury). Despite all of that, the Gators are dancing behind head coach Kelly Rae Finley, who was elevated from interim at the conclusion of the regular season.
A big question mark is how UF can fare without Smith. She led the Gators in multiple statistical categories prior to suffering a season-ending knee injury in the SEC Tournament. Look for Zippy Broughton and Alberte Rimdal to step up against the Knights.
"We will miss Kiki on the floor. There's no doubt about that," Finley said Friday as the Gators spoke to media in Connecticut. "But we prepare like we prepare every single day. We have tremendous group of student athletes who strive to be their best in whatever role is required of them every single day and that's what makes this team unique and really, really special. You don't always get that and I know that Kiki is extremely confident in the preparation of her teammates, I think she's excited to be here too — she's very much a part of this team and has a tremendous influence on everybody and an impact."
Broughton said the Gators on the court "have to bring more."
"There's a lot of us stepping into roles that we once didn't have before. So everyone now has to play a different role..." Broughton said. "Kiki led us in a lot of categories. But us as a team we know that we can have each other's back and we'll just bring the best of our ability of whatever that role is tomorrow."
In regards to the in-state rivalry game happening in Storrs with UF vs. UCF, junior guard Nina Rickards said, "I guess they wanted a challenge to see who is the best team in Florida, so we're going to give 'em a show. As you can see, there's a lot of teams from Florida playing in this tournament, so that means something really being in basketball there. So we're just excited to be here. Like we said, wherever we had to go we were going to show up and that's what we're doing."