Florida women's basketball dominates Wake Forest, punches its ticket to WNIT Super 16

Ainslie Lee
The Gainesville Sun

While the Florida Gators' women's basketball team might not be competing in the big dance, after beating Wofford in the first round of the WNIT, veteran leader Nina Rickards assured that she and her team weren't going to treat their postseason opportunity any different.

"Even though it's not the NCAA Tournament, we're still going to take this opportunity and try to win it all," Rickards said after the win over Wofford. "It's very important for my younger teammates and I to get this experience and to compete. There's really good teams in the WNIT, so we're going to take it and run with it."

And after their second-round 80-63 win over Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C., Monday night, Rickards and the Gators are one step closer to winning the WNIT as they advanced to the Super 16 for the first time since 2013. Florida will face Clemson, which edged Auburn 56-55 late Monday night.

A look back at round one:Florida edges past Wofford in opening round of WNIT

Gators softball:Gutsy Gators walk it off against Missouri to claim their first SEC series

Here's how Monday's win happened.

Gators finally string together a strong second quarter

Coming into Monday's matchup, Florida hadn't had its best stuff in the second quarter.

In their tournament-opening win against Wofford, the Gators were outscored 19-8 in the second frame after putting up 22 points in the first quarter.

"We've really been trying to get those second quarters better," Florida head coach Kelly Rae Finley said following the win over Wofford. "It seems to be our second quarters have been our sticking point for quite a few games here now."

On Monday, the Gators outscored the Demon Deacons 22-9 in the second quarter behind a brilliant three-point shooting effort that saw Florida go 6-for-9 from beyond the arc.

The Gators finished the night 12-for-25 from the three-point line, tying a season high that dates back to Jan. 8, when Florida went 12-for-24 against Georgia.

Jordyn Merritt and Alberte Rimdal led Florida's three-point shooting with three apiece, while six different Gators notched a three-pointer against the Demon Deacons.

Nina Rickards posts career high, KK Deans notches double-double

Heading into halftime, it looked like Rickards was bound for a rather silent night as she finished the first half with five points. Instead, Florida's veteran was just getting started.

While the Gators outscored the Demon Deacons 47-39 in the second half, Rickards led the way with a 20-point second-half that saw her go 8-for-12 from the field and 2-for-2 from downtown.

On the night, Rickards was 10-for-17 and 3-for-3 from beyond the arc.

"It was fun to see that all come together for her," Finley said of Rickards in her postgame radio interview. "10-for-17 from Nina, that's really what we've been looking for from her all season. ... I thought she had an exceptionally great night tonight."

Rickards ended up with 25 points, beating her previous career high of 24, set on Dec. 4, 2022 against Dayton. Monday night's career performance is the second consecutive game the Gators have celebrated a Rickards' milestone; the senior guard celebrated scoring her 1,000th point against Wofford last week.

Meanwhile, senior transfer KK Deans also made major contributions as she returned to her home state. Deans, a native of Greensboro, N.C., notched a double-double with 13 points and 10 assists.

Rickards and Deans were two of three Gators to finish in double figures as Merritt also chipped in 15 points.

Florida glad to still be playing in late March

There aren't many college women's basketball teams still playing this late in March. And while Florida might not be competing for a NCAA championship, the Gators are grateful for any opportunity to compete − especially in the postseason.

"We've been working. That's all I can say," Finley said. "It was our spring break last week and while a lot of teams could've made different choices or not wanted to play, that's not the group we have. They're competitors and they enjoy playing."

And following Monday night's win, the Gators have yet another opportunity to return to the hardwood this season.

As for their next opponent, Clemson (19-15) and Florida did not play this season. Yet, there are still ties with Clemson as its women's basketball program is coached by Amanda Butler, who piloted the Gators from 2007-17 after playing at Florida from 1990-94.