'Tonight, I'll call her Big Shay': Ra Shaya Kyle records double-double as Gators top Aggies

Ainslie Lee
The Gainesville Sun

It was a tough act to follow for the Florida Gators' women's basketball team Thursday night as it hosted the Texas A&M Aggies on the same floor the Gators' men's basketball team stunned the second-ranked Tennessee Volunteers the night prior.

"Oh, I was there," laughed Florida junior Ra Shaya Kyle when asked what she thought about the men's team's upset.

But Kelly Rae Finley and her team rose to the challenge and survived Thursday's conference tilt against Texas A&M (6-14, 1-9 SEC) as the Gators (14-8, 3-6 SEC) topped the Aggies 61-54.

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Here are takeaways from Thursday's matchup.

Big Shay shines

Sometimes, you'll hear members of Gators' women's basketball program affectionately refer to Kyle as "Big Shay".

Thursday night was one of those times.

"Tonight, I will call her Big Shay," Finley said. "Not the little one. Sometimes it's the little one."

Stretching 6-foot-6, Kyle is hard to miss. But after Thursday's tilt against the Aggies, people weren't just watching Kyle because she was tall − they were watching her because she was putting on a clinic.

Kyle, who transferred from Purdue, recorded her fifth double-double of the season against Texas A&M, finishing with a team-leading 13 points and a career-high 17 rebounds.

"She can do that every night. It doesn't matter how many minutes she plays. That's what she should expect to do and that's what our team should grow to expect of her," Finely said of Kyle. "But I think her mindset was different tonight. I liked her approach to the game. I thought her demeanor was different and I thought it had an incredible impact on our team and how we carried ourselves."

Also contributing in Florida's win was KK Deans (12 points) and Nina Rickards (10 points).

Florida fends off Texas A&M in the second half

Florida went into the locker room at half time with a slim, four-point advantage.

And thanks to a stingy defensive performance in the third quarter, the Gators were able to add some cushion to their lead. Florida led Texas A&M 44-34 heading into the final frame.

But the Aggies, who fell to the Gators 55-48 in College Station on Jan. 1, didn't go down quietly.

Texas A&M outscored Florida 20-17 in the final quarter, which featured a 6-0 run from the Aggies to help close the gap. However, it was a three-pointer from Texas A&M's Sydney Bowles that brought the Aggies within three points with 19 seconds to play.

Following Bowles' clutch shot, Finley would call a timeout.

"She told us to change our demeanor," Kyle said of the timeout. "And then she told me to get on them, so I did. I just told them that we needed to play how we were playing in the first half and just get back to who we are because I know how we can play and we knew we could finish that game."

Gators celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day

Florida's narrow win over Texas A&M wasn't the only thing worth celebrating Thursday night.

The Gators had a number of initiatives in place to celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day, which took place the day prior to their matchup with the Aggies.

While a youth girls basketball game served as Thursday night's halftime entertainment, the Gators also allowed eight young girls to shadow members of different UAA departments ranging from fan engagement to photography.

"We're really grateful every day for the opportunity we have to play. We recognize that there was a time when that wasn't the case," Finley said. "The University of Florida has provided us a great opportunity to be able to play a game that teaches us so much."