Smith's 26 points help UCF to first-ever win over Florida
By PAT EATON-ROBB
STORRS, Conn. (AP) UCF traveled more than 1,000 miles to play in-state rival Florida in the NCAA Tournament.
For the Knights, it was well worth the trip.
Brittney Smith came off the bench to score a career-high 26 points and lead No. 7 seed UCF over the Gators 69-52 on Saturday. It was the program's first NCAA Tournament win and first-ever win over the Gators in program history after 26 consecutive losses.
Diamond Battles added 18 points and Masseny Kaba had 14 for the Knights (26-3).
"I'm so proud of these women they've made history this year, winning the regular season (American Athlethic Conference) championship and the (AAC) tournament championship," coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said. "We made goals and attained just about all of them. We're very blessed."
Nina Rickards had 17 points and Zippy Broughton added 12 point for an injury-riddled Florida (21-11).
UCF led just 18-13 after a quarter before getting the ball to Smith early in the second. The AAC's sixth woman of the year scored her team's first four baskets of the frame and helped extend the lead to 30-15.
"I just wanted to score, lift my team up in any way that's possible," she said.
Smith finished the game with 11 baskets on 15 shots. She also pulled down six rebounds.
"Brittney in scary because she doesn't know that she's that good or that athletic or has such a fabulous wingspan," Abrahamson-Henderson said. "She knows when she catches the ball in the low post that she's a bucket. In fact, they call her `Bucket.'"
A jumper by Florida's Nina Rickards just before the buzzer sent the teams into halftime with UCF leading 34-23.
Florida cut the deficit to six points in the third, but UCF scored the final eight points of quarter to push the lead back to 51-39 then outscored the Gators 18-13 over the final 10 minutes to secure the win.
Florida shot just 30% from the floor and made just four of 20 attempts from 3-point range.
The Gators played the second half without center Faith Dut, who scored four points before going down just before halftime grabbing her right ankle and unable to put any weight on that leg. She came out for the second half on crutches.
"It's been typical of our season," coach Kelly Rae Finley said." I like to think that my team has been resilient and it's all been unfortunate but we don't make excuses we have a talented roster and that's what carried us thus far."
Florida was already playing without leading scorer Kiara "Kiki" Smith (14.6 points per game), who was lost for the season with a knee injury, and forward Jordyn Merritt (10.1 ppg), who suffered a head injury. Both were hurt during the SEC Tournament.
Florida: The Gators ended the season losing five of six, but finished with their first 20-win season since 2016. That also was the last time the team made the tournament.
UCF: The AAC champions won for the first time in seven NCAA appearances and will head into the second round on a 14-game winning streak.
STATS OF THE GAME
UCF scored 19 points off of 16 Florida turnovers. UCF has forced every opponent it has faced this season into double-digit turnovers. The Knights also outscored the Gators 36-16 in the paint, despite being outrebounded 44-36.
UCF will face No. 2 seed UConn on Monday night. The Huskies routed Mercer 83-38 in their first-round game Saturday. The Knights are 0-13 against all-time against UConn, which went undefeated in its seven years in the American Athletic Conference before leaving the league for the Big East in 2020.
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Updated March 19, 2022