How would you like to finish off your weekend with more Kentucky hoops? The ladies have you covered.
Just a few days removed from Rhyne Howard’s career night of 43 points in a road win over Alabama, the No. 14 Kentucky Wildcats (13-2) women’s basketball team is back on the road again, this time heading down to Gainesville as they take on the Florida Gators (11-5) at noon later on Sunday.
The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.
— Kentucky WBB (@KentuckyWBB) January 12, 2020
Florida is a vastly-improved team compared to just a season ago. They’ve already posted more wins (11) halfway through the season as they did all of last year (8). The Gators are coming off two straight SEC wins over Vanderbilt and Auburn and enters Sunday’s game coming off a hot-shooting exhibition where they converted on over 61 percent of its shots against Auburn – the highest figure throughout an SEC game in program history.
An influx of freshmen have jumpstarted this Florida team and third-year head coach Cam Newbauer is starting to find a groove at the helm. So let’s figure out what we need to know about another critical inter-conference matchup for the ‘Cats.
Starting with coach Newbauer, the Indiana native has close to 20 years of basketball experience as a coach in both the men’s and women’s fields. He spent four seasons at Belmont before coming to UF, making two NCAA Tournament appearances and one trip to the WNIT. While the Gators have yet to reach that kind of success under Newbauer, they are quickly showing the potential that will make them a threat for years to come.
Through two seasons, Newbauer was 19-43 and finished near the very bottom of the SEC both times. The 2018-19 season was full of roster turnover, as they welcomed eight newcomers while returning just two role players from the year prior. Those newbies were thrust into prominent roles with the team and it led them to one of the best shooting seasons in school history. Florida made 235 triples a season ago, the second-most in school history. It also marked the second consecutive season they knocked down at least 200 threes. Similar to Kentucky’s brand of basketball, Newbauer has had the Gators shooting as many shots from deep as possible.
Now in his third season, Newbauer is building his program. Returning eight ladies from last year’s team in addition to one of the nation’s top recruiting classes – highlighted by the team’s leading scorer, Lavender Briggs – Florida is a rising force in the SEC.
So let’s talk about Briggs a bit more. The star freshman is putting up 14.6 points per outing through 15 games. She is the first Florida freshman to average that many points since Merlakia Jones put up 15.2 points per game back in the 1991-92 season.
The 6-foot-1 guard has scored in double-figures 14 straight times this season, including a career-high of 23 points in a loss against Wake Forest. The former five-star recruit leads all SEC freshmen in scoring and is tied for most-minutes played (35.3 minutes per game). Briggs is also second on the team in rebounding, pulling down nearly six boards per outing. She also shoots 36.8 percent from deep on a team-high 68 attempts.
Next to Briggs in the backcourt is the 5-foot-10 redshirt junior, Kiara Smith, who leads the team in assists (57) and steals (22) while scoring the second-most points amongst her teammates (13.8 ppg). She’s nearly doubled her scoring average from 2018-19, going from just 7.1 points per game last season all the way up to 13.8. Both Smith and Briggs will play heavy minutes for the Gators, as they average 35.3 per game apiece.
The Gators embrace their ability to stretch the floor by starting two more guards – 6-foot-1 sophomore Kristina Moore and 5-foot-9 freshman Nina Richards.
Moore is listed as a guard but has a solid scoring presence inside and outside the paint. The Australian native is 15-49 (30.6) from beyond the arc this season while hauling in 4.4 boards and dropping in 7.5 points per game. She’s started all 16 games for Florida and was a full-time starter last season before an injury sidelined her.
Richards has started the previous seven games for UF while averaging 4.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game throughout the entire season. She recently poured in a career-high of 13 points in a win over Auburn and is second on the team in steals (19). Richards came to Florida as a four-star recruit and the No. 20 overall prospect according to ESPN.
Controlling the middle of the floor is 6-foot-2 redshirt senior Zada Williams. The veteran leads the team with a shooting percentage of 61.4 percent while corralling a team-high of 8.1 boards per game. She’s already recorded four double-doubles this season and produced a career-high of 25 points agaisnt Xavier earlier this season. She spent two years at Miami (FL) before coming to Gainesville.
The Gators will likely start Briggs, Smith, Moore, Richards, and Williams.
Coming off the bench for Florida is a young sharpshooting marksman and a super-sub.
Freshman Brylee Bartram is just seventh on the team in minutes but has already fired off 63 shots from deep (just five behind the team leader at 68), knocking down 19 of them. While that puts her at a mere 27.5 percent clip, she has shown zero fear when open. In 12 of her 15 outings this season, Bartram has attempted at least three shots from beyond the arc. Joining her off the pine is a 5-foot-9 sophomore, Ariel Johnson. The guard started the first nine games for Florida before moving to a reserve role where she comes off the bench as another scoring punch. Like Bartram, Johnson will fire from deep. While she’s connecting on a mere 23.5 percent mark, Johnson has already attempted 68 threes.
So, if you haven’t already guessed, Florida likes to shoot from deep. While they aren’t exactly proficient at it (they’ve attempted the third-most threes amongst all SEC teams but are third-to-last in percentage at just 28.8 percent), they keep defenses honest. They don’t have an intimidating interior presence, either. It’s even weaker in terms of size than Kentucky’s.
The Gators do have size, although most of them sit on the bench. Florida has three ladies on the roster that stand at least 6-foot-4, however, none of them average more than 10 minutes per game.
Depending on the status of Wildcats forward KeKe McKinney (who sat out last game with a severe migraine), Kentucky could have an unusually beneficial day on the glass.
Florida isn’t a great scoring team, in fact, they’re one of the worst in the SEC. They shoot poorly from deep despite those looks making up a majority of the offense. They are a putrid free-throw shooting team (just 56.7 percent, one of the worst marks in Division I) and post a horrendous assist/turnover ratio (0.73).
Where they make up for their scoring deficiencies is on the defensive end. Florida holds its opponents to just 60.3 points per game and is one of the most efficient teams in the country in terms of keeping them off the free-throw line.
Barring an unexpected hot shooting day from Florida, Kentucky should be able to glide right through to another road win. If Howard can produce even half of what she’s been doing the last few games, Kentucky should be fine. The Gators are essentially the Walmart-brand version of this UK team.
While the Gators do boast an impressive win over Vandy just two games ago, they have failed to beat a truly “good” team this season. They lost to a ranked Mississippi State team by 46 not even two weeks ago and have also lost to really good Indiana and Florida State squads. A win over the ‘Cats would highlight their season.
Tipoff is just a short time away on ESPNU, make sure to tune in and support the ladies.