GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Nina Rickards led an impressive effort from Florida women's basketball on Monday evening, helping the Gators to an 80-63 victory at Wake Forest in the second round of the WNIT.
Rickards put together an impressive 25-point performance to lead the Gators (18-14), marking a new career-best for the senior to go along with four rebounds. Jordyn Merritt recorded 15 points with eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks. KK Deans ended with her second career double-double, tallying 13 points and 10 assists.
For the game, Florida ended 27-of-56 (48.2%) from the floor and 12-of-25 (48.0%) from long range while holding Wake Forest (17-17) to 21-of-63 (33.3%) from the field and 9-of-25 (36%) from deep. The Gators assisted on 18 of their 21 makes, led by Deans' 10.
The Gators controlled the glass in Winston-Salem, finishing with a 38-37 edge over the Demon Deacons. In addition to Merritt's eight boards, Jeriah Warren pulled down seven and Faith Dut gathered six of her own.
Defensively, UF forced Wake into 15 turnovers resulting in 10 steals, led by Warren's four, leading to a 19-8 advantage in points-off-turnovers and 11-7 edge in fast break points.
Jewel Spear led Wake Forest with 25 points and five rebounds.
Florida didn't waste any time taking control of the game, opening with a 7-0 run, including the first five from Warren, while holding the Demon Deacons scoreless for the first 4:11 of the contest. Wake Forest answered with the next six points before a pull-up jumper from Rickards at the 3:18 mark put an end to the spurt. The offensive struggle continued to the end of the opener for the Gators, ending just 1-of-7 in the first quarter as Wake took a 15-11 advantage into the second stanza.
Rickards helped take the lead off of the bucket to start the second, knocking down a triple from the left wing to pull the Gators within one. The first lead of the second quarter came two minutes later when Deans found Alberte Rimdal in the same spot on a fast break, making it 17-14, before knocking down a long range shot of her own with 5:58 showing on the clock.
After the Orange & Blue scored the opening nine points of the second quarter, Olivia Summiel converted a corner three to put a stop to the bleeding for WFU with 5:45 left in the half. Florida's three-point barrage didn't stop, with Rimdal and Merritt converting back-to-back threes to make it 28-18 late into the period. Summiel answered with two more of her own from range to make it a four-point game, but the last five points of the half would go the way of the Gators to make it 33-24 at the break. All nine made field goals between the two teams in the second quarter came from behind the three-point line.
Exchanging buckets for the first five minutes of the second half, Florida got much-needed energy after Deans sliced through the lane for a tough-finish and foul to extend the Gators' lead to 12, 46-34. The Demon Deacons wouldn't disappear, however, reeling-off eight straight points, all from Spear, to make it 46-42 with 1:49 showing on the clock. Needing a bucket, Rickards rose to the occasion and drained a straight-on three to re-establish a seven-point edge before converting a contested lay-in to make it 51-42 with 10 minutes remaining.
In fitting fashion, Rickards immediately pushed Florida's lead to double-figures to start the final frame, marking the last time the Demon Deacons would be within singles digits of the Gators as Florida sprinted away from Wake Forest for a dominant 80-63 victory.
Head Coach Kelly Rae Finley
On advancing to the third round of the WNIT...
"We've been working. That's all I can say. This team is determined and I was really pleased with how they invested their time, and the choices that they made of the course of the last two weeks. It was their spring break last week and while a lot of teams could've made different choices or not wanted to play, that's not the group we have. They're competitors and they enjoy playing with each other, so tonight was top-to-bottom a very good game."
On the impressive shooting performance...
"I thought they were encouraging each other, you could see that little bit of swagger, that little bit of confidence in each other. KK would pass the ball and she'd be all, 'knock down,' before the shot was even going in. Anytime you have somebody instilling that amount of confidence in you is a good thing."
- Florida now holds a 2-1 advantage all-time against Wake Forest.
- The Gators improved to 17-8 in the WNIT all-time, including a 5-2 mark in the second round of the tournament.
- Florida will be making their first appearance in the Super Sixteen of the WNIT since 2013.
- This marks Florida's best showing in the WNIT since making the semifinals in 2013.
- Nina Rickards recorded a new career-high with 25 points on Monday.
- Rickards' 10 field goals tied a career-best.
- KK Deans recorded her second-career double-double with 13 points and 10 assists.
- The 10 assists by Deans marked the most since Delicia Washington recorded 10 assists against Savannah State on Nov. 23, 2017.
- Deans is alone is 11th for the most made threes in a single season by the Gators, owning 70 this season.
- Florida held their opponent to under 65 points for the 11th time this season.
The Gators will meet the winner of Auburn and Clemson in the Super 16 of the WNIT. Details on location and game time will be release late Monday evening or early Tuesday morning.