What's better than a talented guard? A talented, experienced guard. What's better than a talented, experienced guard? Two of them. Meet Lavender Briggs and Kiara a k a "Kiki" Smith, back for one more run together at Florida as the SEC's most explosive backcourt.
Ask Arkansas, which saw the 6-foot-1 Briggs detonate for 41 points in Fayetteville. Or ask Kentucky, which watched the 5-10 Smith go off for 36 points in the SEC Tournament. Those outings were career-highs, but they were not rare bolts of lightning.
Briggs was averaging 19.5 points a game when she suffered a foot injury in February that cut short her sophomore season. Without her, Smith stepped up, finishing the year at 18.8 points a game. Their combined scoring average of 38.3 set a school record for a pair of teammates and made them the highest-scoring duo in the SEC.
Carrying the scoring load wasn't their only contribution. Smith became the first player in Florida history - and the only player in the SEC in 2020-21 - to lead her team in total points, rebounds and assists. She finished the season averaging 18.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
Meanwhile, despite having her season end early, Briggs finished second on the team in assists and third in rebounding. It's no surprise that the conference's head coaches voted Briggs to the preseason All-SEC first team and Smith to the second team.
Interim head coach Kelly Rae Finley, during a "Build Up 2 Basketball" interview on SEC Now, complimented Briggs on the effort she put into her rehabilitation to be ready for her junior season.
"She's worked hard this off-season, competing, working on her body, on just her overall strength and getting healthy," Finley said. "So we look to
her to be a playmaker for us this season with a pretty star-studded crew around her."
Briggs is just the third Gator to lead the team in scoring average as a freshman and a sophomore. She's been able to lean on Smith for rehab empathy and encouragement. Before arriving in Gainesville from ASA College in New York, Smith suffered not one but two knee injuries. She rebounded to play three seasons for the Gators and enter her final year as a graduate student.
The presence of a proven backcourt should make Finley's transition from associate head coach to interim head coach easier. She was promoted in July when the University Athletic Association announced that Cam Newbauer, who led the program for the last four years, was stepping down for personal reasons.
Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said that Finley, the program's associate head coach, would serve as interim head coach for this season and that Florida plans to name a permanent head coach following the season.
"During Kelly's four years here at Florida, she has been well-respected within the women's basketball program and throughout the UAA," Stricklin said, "and we're fortunate to have her step in and lead our young women."
Finley sounded optimistic that the Gators will be able to improve on last season's 12-14 overall record and 3-11 mark in the conference.
"I think that this team is really special," she said. "We have a determination to compete every single day and a real deep care for one another. As a head coach, I'm not sure there's much more that you can ask for."