STORRS, Conn. - The Gators turned up in a big way in their first season under head coach Kelly Rae Finley, most notably by advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years.
However, by the time March Madness tipped off for the Gators on Saturday afternoon here at Gampel Pavilion, they hardly resembled the team that climbed as high as No. 15 in the national rankings in the regular season.
Undermanned and unable to hit shots in the opening half, Florida lost to UCF 69-52 in the first round to see its 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 Merritt, the Gators (21-11) fell behind by double-digits in the first half and trailed, 34-23, at halftime thanks to shooting 26.7 percent (8 of 30), including just 1 of 8 from beyond the arc.
The Gators remained within striking distance in the second half, cutting the lead to 41-37 on a Nina Rickards jumper with 3:14 left in the third quarter. After the Knights scored and Rickards answered with a pair of free throws to make it 43-39, UCF went on a 8-0 run to cap the period and take a 51-39 lead.
Rickards led the Gators with 17 points, and fellow 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 6-foot-4 senior forward Faith Dut in the first half to an apparent ankle injury, adding to their injury woes.