3 takeaways from the Florida Gators women's basketball team's 78-73 loss to Missouri
Despite building a double-digit lead early into Sunday’s contest, the Florida women’s basketball team dropped its third consecutive game, falling 78-73 to Missouri in the regular season finale.
The Tigers, who hit 7 of 15 3-point attempts, got a game-high 26 points from junior forward Hayley Frank in improving to 10-2 in the series with Florida.
The No. 21-ranked Gators finished the regular season with their first 20-win season since the 2015-16 campaign, though there's certainly work to be done if UF hopes to reach internal expectations.
"I think we got here by being ourselves. One thing we talk about a lot, is when we have fun with it, we play our best basketball," UF guard Kiara Smith said. "I think once we get back to the fun part, and still keep it in the back of our mind that we are trying to get somewhere, we'll get back to play the basketball as a team we know we can play and have played before."
Men's basketball:3 takeaways from Florida Gators' victory at Georgia
Here are 3 takeaways from Sunday’s contest.
Gators recognize four seniors
Prior to taking the court against the Tigers, the Gators honored four student-athletes — Zippy Broughton, Emanuely de Oliveira, Kristina Moore and Kiara Smith — competing for the final time at the Exactech Arena.
With coach Kelly Rae Finley awaiting at center court, the four Gators were recognized for their accomplishments as recorded messages from friends and family played on the four video boards hanging from the rafters.
The four would start the contest alongside junior guard Nina Rickards, marking Moore’s first start of the season.
"That was a really great crowd for senior day," Finley said. "I would never change (starting the seniors), and that wasn't a handout either. It's really important that they understand and feel all of our support. I think like they said on the loud speaker, this senior class will go down as one of the best senior classes to really help rejuvenate our program and take us to places we haven't been in a long time."
Florida’s starting contingent combined for 45 points and eight assists against Missouri.
Early double-digit lead evaporates
The Gators built an early 20-10 lead, only for it all to fall apart over the final 27:37 of play.
UF, which led by one possession after the first quarter, proceeded to open the second period of play on a 8-0 run, and it appeared as if Florida would run away with the bounce-back victory on its home court.
But the Tigers would soon seize the momentum. Missouri went on a 19-2 run over the final 7:37 of the second period to take a seven-point lead into the halftime break.
Smith indicated the Gators hung their heads a bit after Missouri's run, which only compounded the issue.
"As a team, something we talk a lot about is holding our heads down too early. We're so competitive and we want to win so bad, the smallest thing can make us go in our shells or not be as connected," Smith said, "and I think when we do that too early, we let teams get the 19-2 run, and by that time it gets too deep. So coming from me, as a leader, I need to be more aware of that earlier, and as a team we just need to respond."
The Gators didn’t respond well out of the break, and soon the Tigers were the ones possessing the double-digit advantage. Rickards would drain a 3-pointer as the third period buzzer sounded to cut the deficit to 53-45 heading into the final 10 minutes of play. Florida would make it a two-possession game with under two minutes remaining in regulation, but Missouri would manage to do what the Gators couldn’t — close the game at the free-throw line.
Smith’s off day
Florida’s leader in multiple statistical categories, “Kiki” Smith finished the game with 15 points on 5-of-17 shooting, including a 2-for-13 start.
Smith wasn’t just off from field-goal range either.
The sixth-year senior had a chance to cut Florida’s deficit to a manageable three points with 1:45 remaining, but Smith, a 66.2 percent free-throw shooter, missed both attempts at the charity stripe, and the Tigers went 14 for 17 at the line in the fourth quarter to preserve their advantage and escape Gainesville with a victory.
With the SEC Tournament — as well as the NCAA Tournament — around the corner, the Gators know time is nigh to return to form. Smith isn't concerned, however — as long as Florida puts the past behind it and has the right approach.
"I think we definitely have got to have a hard talk, a hard conversation. We have definitely got to get tougher," Smith said. "But I feel like the team's response is going to be the proper response. We're all competitive, we all want it, and there's not one person on this team that's going to fade away from the opportunity. We just have to understand the opportunity better. I don't think as a team, we understand what it is we're really trying to do, and I think a hard conversation, a reality check, has to happen. But I think we're going to get in the gym and get better, for sure."