Exhausted Alligators unable to overcome UCF, eliminated from NCAA Tournament

Gators Nina Rickards, Zippy Broughton and Alberte Rimdal, from left, watch Saturday’s NCAA Tournament game in Storrs, Conn. (Photo: Matt Pendleton/UAA Communications)

Photo by: Matt Pendleton

The UF women’s basketball team’s first trip to March Madness since 2016 ends in a loss to UCF.

STORRS, Conn. – The Gators proved to be very important in their first season under the head coach Kelly Rae Finleyincluding advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years.

However, by the time March Madness tipped off the Gators on Saturday afternoon here at the Gampel Pavilion, they looked little like the team that climbed as high as 15th in the national standings in the regular season.

Understaffed and unable to hit any shots in the first half, Florida lost to UCF 69-52 in the first round to see their breakthrough season come to an end. Meanwhile, the Knights (26-3) won their first NCAA tournament game in program history.

Playing without injured starters Kiki Smith and Jordyn Merrittthe Gators (21-11) fell by double digits in the first half and trailed, 34-23, at halftime on 26.7% shooting (8 of 30), including just 1 on 8 beyond the arc.

The Gators stayed within striking distance in the second half, cutting the lead to 41-37 on a Nina Rickard jumper with 3:14 left in the third quarter. After the Knights scored and Rickards responded with a pair of free throws to make it 43-39, UCF went on an 8-0 run to cap the period and take a 51-39 lead.

Rickards led the Gators with 17 points and another guard Zippy Broughton added 12. UCF was led by senior forward Brittney Smith, who scored a game-high 26 points and grabbed six rebounds.

The Gators lost the 6-foot-4 senior forward Faith Dut in the first half with an apparent ankle injury, adding to their injuries.

Editor’s Note: Check FloridaGators.com later for a more complete report on today’s game.

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