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Florida women's basketball puts five-game winning streak on the line against No. 1 South Carolina

Alan Festo
Gator Sports
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The Florida women’s basketball team is garnering some much-deserved attention following its stunning 73-72 win over then-No. 11 LSU on Sunday in Gainesville.

The Gators (15-5, 5-2 SEC) — winners of five straight in SEC play for the first time since the 2008-2009 season — have now won three games over ranked opponents this season, including a 25-point blowout on the road against No. 22 Kentucky.

Their reward? A date with No. 1 South Carolina this Sunday, No. 5 Tennessee on Thursday and trip to No. 12 Georgia on Feb. 6.

“This is why you come to play in the league, because you want to play against the best, and we’re all up for the challenge and it’s exciting for us,” Florida interim head coach Kelly Rae Finley said.

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Florida’s offensive production has improved following the season-ending injury to All-SEC selection Lavender Briggs, who subsequently announced that she is transferring to Maryland.

Kiki Smith leads Gator attack

In her absence, Kiki Smith has led the Gators’ attack, averaging just over 20 points per game during the winning streak while also leading the team in rebounds (5.2), assists (4.7) and steals (2.5) over the course of the season.

Florida Gators women's basketball interim head coach Kelly Rae Finley talks with guard Kiki Smith during a game against LSU on Jan. 23 at Exactech Arena in Gainesville. Smith is averaging just over 20 points over the last five games.

Florida guard Zippy Broughton

Guard Zippy Broughton has increased her offensive output as well, averaging more than 15 points per game over the last five contests.

“We believe that experience is the greatest teacher and they (Smith and Broughton) have both played a lot of minutes. And they have vastly different experiences that complement each other very well,” Finley said. “All season we’ve had different players step up in different moments and we have a really unique team. We can put a lot of different looks on the floor from a basketball strategy perspective. “

The Gators will likely need several players, including 3-point shooter Jordyn Merritt, to step up if they hope to knock off the Gamecocks.

Aliyah Boston

South Carolina (19-1, 7-1 SEC) is led by All-American and 2021 Naismith Women’s College Player of the Year finalist Aliyah Boston. The 6-5 junior is averaging 17.3 points and 11.4 rebounds per game and has recorded 13 straight double-doubles dating back to Nov. 29.

Boston has led the Gamecocks this season to top-25 wins over UConn, Stanford, NC State, Oregon, Duke, LSU, Maryland, and Mississippi.

“From a game-plan strategy it’s us versus them. It’s not just Aliyah Boston versus the Gators,” Finley said.

Destanni Henderson and Zia Cooke

The Gators also will have to contend with senior guard Destanni Henderson (12.4 ppg) and junior guard Zia Cooke (11.9 ppg).

Another key for Florida will be keep South Carolina off the glass. The Gamecocks lead the nation in rebounding margin at 17.9 per game.

“South Carolina is a very, very talented team. They’ve beat a lot of high-caliber teams, “Finley said. “I think we’re excited, I think we will embrace the opportunity, but every game has been a different learning experience for all of us in terms of expectations and a willingness to stay steady and consistent.

“There’s a steadiness to our team. A steadiness and a belief that when we do the best we can we can live with whatever the result is.”

SUNDAY'S GAME

Who: No. 1 South Carolina at Florida

Where: O’Connell Center

When: Noon Sunday

TV/Radio: SEC Network, AM-850, 98.1-FM

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