Florida women's basketball coach Kelly Rae Finley named 2022 Rookie Coach of the Year

Graham Hall
Gator Sports

Kelly Rae Finley’s success in her first season overseeing the Florida women’s basketball program continues to earn her accolades.

On Wednesday, Finley was named the 2022 Spalding Maggie Dixon Division I Rookie Coach of the Year, the Women's Basketball Coaches Association announced. 

"Success in your first year as a head coach is generally a difficult feat. When a new head coach demonstrates a mastery of managing all aspects of a program, as well as producing success in competition, our coaching family pays respectful attention," said WBCA Executive Director Danielle Donehew. 

"Kelly Rae led her team to a remarkable season. We celebrate her effort and effectiveness on the basketball court as a teacher and equally applaud the extensive role she plays in impacting the lives of her student-athletes."

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A winning debut for Kelly Rae Finley

Florida Gators head coach Kelly Rae Finley talks with players during a break in the second half against the Ole Miss Rebels at the SEC Tournament on March 4.

Finley led the Gators (21-11) to a 20-win season for just the 16th time in program history and the first since the 2015-16 campaign. Her run was made even more impressive, however, considering her interim status. Finley was named the program’s acting head coach in the wake of Cameron Newbauer’s departure in July. Newbauer was later accused of multiple instances of behavior deemed abusive by players.

Finley was officially named head coach on Feb. 28. En route to securing the fifth seed in the SEC Tournament, the Gators downed five opponents ranked within USA Today’s top 25 rankings, including a 25-point dismantling of then-No. 7 Tennessee.

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The driving force behind the team was sixth-year guard Kiara "Kiki" Smith, who earned first-team All-SEC honors after posting averages of 14.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.4 steals per game. But Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury during Florida’s 53-52 win over Vanderbilt in the second-round of the SEC Tournament.

Having lost its de facto leader, Florida made the NCAA Tournament as a No. 10 seed, where the Gators would see their season end in the first round to No. 7-seeded UCF. 

Finley told of her first UF team: "This is a team that has started to leave a legacy. It's building blocks for the future of our program. I'm just very proud."

About the award

Named in honor of the late Maggie Dixon, who died in 2006 at the age of 29 of an undiagnosed heart condition, the award is given to WBCA member NCAA Division I head coaches who have led their team to a successful season during their first year on the sideline. In her inaugural season, Dixon led Army to the 2006 Patriot League title, as well as the program’s first appearance in the NCAA women's championship tournament. Dixon died weeks later on April 6, 2006.