Florida women's basketball team hits late free throws to hold off SEC foe Auburn

Special to
Florida's Kiara Smith finished Thursday night's game against Auburn with 19 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals. [Special to]

Late game composure at the free-throw line helped the Florida women's basketball team withstand a late Auburn rally on Thursday evening, pushing the Gators past the Tigers, 68-63, in Gainesville.

Despite shooting just 3 of 14 from the field against the Tigers (8-7, 0-4 SEC), Florida (12-5, 2-2 SEC) ended a perfect 8 for 8 from the charity stripe in the final frame. For the game, the Gators shot 23 of 61 from the field (37.7%) and 20 of 23 (87%) from the free-throw line. Auburn ended the evening 22 of 54 (40.7%) from the floor, but only 17 of 26 (65.4%) from the line.

The Gators were led offensively by Kiara Smith who, despite only having three points at halftime, finished the game with 19 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals. Freshman Alberte Rimdal had her best game of the year, tallying a career-high 14 points while Nina Rickards also added 14 points along with five rebounds. Rickards ended a perfect 8 of 8 from the free-throw line.

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In addition to free-throw shooting, bench play played a key role in Florida's success inside Exactech Arena, as the UF bench outscored the Tigers 29-9. Rimdal led the effort with 14 points, but Floor Toonders contributed a season-high eight points to spark the offense.

On the glass, Auburn outrebounded the Gators in a nearly even effort, 37-36. Rickards, Toonders and Taliyah Wyche all pulled down five for the home squad, assisting in the team's 10-8 advantage on the offensive glass.

Auburn was led by Aicha Coulibaly with 24 points, eight rebounds and a block.

Entering the third quarter with a 54-48 lead, the Gators would struggle from the floor to start the final frame. Auburn's defensive intensity turned up at the beginning, boosting the Tigers to a 9-0 start for a 57-54 advantage with 4:20 on the clock. Smith put an end to the run 12 seconds later, blowing past the defense for an easy bucket to pull UF back within one.

The Tigers again extended the lead to three with 3:37 left in the game, but momentum would swing back seconds later after Coulibaly committed a foul against Wyche with 2:47 remaining. The Auburn standout, following the foul, received a technical foul, putting Nina Rickards on the line for two free-throw makes, again pulling Florida within one.

Despite the setback for the opposition, Auburn would extend the lead to three twice more, owning a 63-60 lead with just over two minutes in the game. It would again be Smith to the rescue for Florida, as the graduate again sliced through the lane for a layup to close the gap to one. The Gators got a key stop on the next Tiger possession, before Smith was fouled driving down the court. Two free throws later, the game was back in favor of Florida, 64-63.

Rickards would put the nail in the coffin for the Gators, going 4 for 4 from the charity stripe over the last 20 seconds to seal the Florida victory.

Despite the close finish, Florida maintained control of the game for the first three quarters. Auburn opened with a 4-2 led in the first quarter before an 8-0 run, capped off by a Smith jumper, gave the Gators a 10-4 advantage at the first media break. The Tigers managed to stay within four for much of the opening period, but a Kristina Moore triple and Rimdal pull-up pushed the UF lead to 21-12, eventually pushing Florida to a 21-14 advantage after one.

The Gators would open up with a 13-point lead following an 8-2 spurt in the second quarter, spurred by five from Rimdal, with 4:06 left in the half. Auburn responded with an 8-0 run of its own, but a Toonders layup and Rickards jumper as time expired gave the Gators a 37-30 halftime advantage.

Wasting no time in the third frame, Auburn pulled within one with 6:41 on the clock thanks to an 8-2 run of its own. The Tigers and Gators would exchange buckets before an eight-point answer from UF pushed the lead back to 52-43 late in the quarter. Smith would score eight of the final 12 points in the quarter for UF, giving Florida a 54-48 lead before the dramatic finish in the fourth quarter.

The Florida women's basketball team will be back in action on Sunday when it heads to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for a matchup with Alabama.

Florida 68, Auburn 63

AUBURN (8-7) 

Johnson 2-5 3-4 7, Coulibaly 9-19 5-10 24, Hughes 3-7 0-0 6, Scott-Grayson 3-11 3-4 9, Wells 2-6 3-4 8, Jordan 1-2 0-0 2, Onwumelu 0-0 2-2 2, Bostic 2-2 1-2 5, Wiggins 0-0 0-0 0, Donahue 0-1 0-0 0, Graves 0-1 0-0 0, Team 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 22-54 17-26 63

FLORIDA (12-5) 

Dut 0-1 0-0 0, Merritt 1-6 0-0 2, Broughton 2-12 0-0 4, Rickards 3-9 8-8 14, Smith 6-13 7-10 19, de Oliveira 0-1 0-0 0, Toonders 4-5 0-0 8, Farrell 0-0 0-0 0, Moore 1-4 2-2 5, Rimdal 5-8 3-3 14, Warren 1-1 0-0 2, Tatyana Wyche 0-0 0-0 0, Taliyah Wyche 0-1 0-0 0, Team 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 23-61 20-23 68

Auburn    14    16    18    15    —    63

Florida    21    16    17    14    —    68

3-Point Goals_Auburn 2-10 (Coulibaly 1-3, Hughes 0-1, Scott-Grayson 0-3, Wells 1-1, Jordan 0-1, Graves 0-1), Florida 2-11 (Merritt 0-1, Broughton 0-3, Rickards 0-1, Smith 0-1, Moore 1-2, Rimdal 1-3). Assists_Auburn 9 (Scott-Grayson 3), Florida 8 (Smith 3). Fouled Out_Auburn Coulibaly, Scott-Grayson. Rebounds_Auburn 37 (Coulibaly 3-8), Florida 36 (Moore 3-5). Total Fouls_Auburn 20, Florida 19. Technical Fouls_Auburn Coulibaly 1. A_801.


Who: Florida at Alabama

When: 3 p.m Sunday

TV: SEC Network+