CLEMSON, S.C. - The Gators continued their impressive road play on Thursday evening, taking down Clemson in South Carolina, 73-63, to punch their ticket to the Great Eight of the Women's NIT.
Florida (19-14) lit it up from behind the three-point line, connecting on 13-of-30 (43.3%) which is tied for the third-best performance by a Florida team in program history.
KK Deans led the way offensively with 19 points in addition to six rebounds and four steals while knocking down a team-high four triples. Deans was just one of five Gators to score in double-figures, joined by Leilani Correa (11), Alberte Rimdal (11), Faith Dut (10) and Nina Rickards (10).
For the game, Florida shot 26-of-58 (44.8%) from the field while holding Clemson (19-16) to 21-of-59 (35.6%) from the floor and just 3-of-16 (18.8%) from long range.
The Orange & Blue shared the ball well, dishing out 21 assists, with five each from Merritt and Rimdal.
The Gators were in charge of the boards once again, outrebounding the Tigers 42-32, led by 11 from Jordyn Merritt. Deans grabbed seven and Dut brought down six, helping Florida hold a 12-10 advantage in second-chance points.
Defensively, Florida forced 14 turnovers that resulted in eight steals, four of which came from Deans, in addition to four blocks, with three coming from Correa.
Clemson did end with the advantage at the charity stripe, knocking down 18-of-25 (72%) compared to UF's 8-of-10 (80%). After a game-opening stop at the defensive end, the Gators went to work quickly on the offensive end.
With the Tigers showing zone, Deans began the game three-for-three from deep, quickly pushing Florida's lead to 9-2. Clemson responded with four-straight to pull within three, but a jumper from Rimdal and triple from Correa made it 14-6 with 5:57 on the clock.
Deans continued her strong offensive showing with five more points to collect 14 of Florida's 19 first quarter points, but the Tigers closed on a 10-2 run to pull within one, 19-18, at the end of the first.
The Gators and Tigers went bucket-for-bucket for the first three minutes of the second until the home team took their first lead of the game at the 6:53 mark following a fast break layup, 27-26. Clemson was able to push their lead to three, but Rimdal managed to find Correa for an open triple on the right wing to tie the game at 29 with 4:56 left in the half.
Correa knocked-down her second triple of the game at the 3:25 mark to push the Orange & Blue's lead to three and help secure a halftime lead for the Gators, 36-35.
The Gators benefitted from eight first-half triples, ending 8-of-17 (47.1%) while holding the Tigers to just 2-of-7 (28.6%). Florida came out of the locker room with a purpose, opening with a 7-2 run that was capped-off by a Rickards layup with 7:50 on the clock, forcing a Clemson timeout while leading 43-37. Just under two minutes later, the Gators took their largest lead of the game to that point, 48-39, after Dut drained a triple from the right wing.
Taliyah Wyche got in on the action with 5:40 showing in the quarter, converting a layup extend Florida's lead to 50-39. The offensive onslaught continued over the final five minutes, as the Gators outscored Clemson 22-10 in the third quarter to take a 58-45 lead into the final 10 minutes.
The impressive third quarter performance would give the Gators all of the momentum they would need, not letting the Tigers back within nine while leading by as many as 18 en route to a 73-63 victory in Littlejohn Coliseum.
Head Coach Kelly Rae Finley
On advancing to the quarterfinals of the WNIT... "I think it's great, you know our team is really coming together. They could make a lot of different choices at this point of the season and they're choosing to elevate our program. I think, as a coach, you can't ask for anything more than that. I'm very proud of them."
On what was working for the Gators... "We've been working really hard on sharing the ball. You know, 22 turnovers is far too many for us, and a lot of those came late in the game. I thought we made a good adjustment midway through the third quarter, coming out of halftime. We took care of the ball a lot better. Our late game situations we just need to execute and see what's open a little bit better. One of our goals was to really improve on both ends of the floor with the rebounds. I thought we did that. To the three-point shooting, we've been working hard on hitting the open player on time, every time by making the extra pass, and then moving to that extra pass to get the uncontested shot. That really payed-off for us tonight." Notables - Florida pulls within one, 3-2, of the all-time series history against Clemson.
- -The Gators are now 18-8 in the WNIT, including an 11-6 mark on the road all-time.
- Florida improves to 2-2 in the Super Sixteen of the WNIT.
- The Orange & Blue will be making their third appearance in the quarterfinal round of the WNIT.
- Florida is a perfect 2-0 in the quarterfinal round of the WNIT, which is coming up next.
- This will mark Florida's first Great Eight appearance since 2013 when they defeated James Madison in Harrisonburg, Va., 85-80.
- With four made threes, KK Deans moved into eighth all-time for made threes in a season, boasting 74.
- Florida tied the third-most triples made in a game in program history with 13.
The Gators will once again hit the road for a matchup with Bowling Green in Ohio in the WNIT quarterfinal matchup on Monday, March 27 at 6 p.m. ET.