Gainesville, FL – No. 7/7 Tennessee women’s basketball team couldn’t overcome a hot-handed Florida squad that shot a season-best 53.2 percent Thursday night, falling 84-59 in Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
Graduate Alexus Dye led UT (19-3, 8-2 SEC) with 10 points and six rebounds. Senior Rae Burrell and sophomore Tess Darby each finished with nine points, and junior Tamari Key had eight points and eight rebounds.
Kiara Smith was the high scorer for Florida (16-6, 6-3 SEC), turning in 25 points. Nina Rickards was the Gators’ second-leading scorer with 16, and Jordyn Merritt posted 13.
Dye cut it to eight with a layup just before the media timeout, and Key followed it up with another following the break to pull the Lady Vols within six with 3:35 left in the first. A 3-pointer by Tess Darby cut it to three 30 seconds later, but Florida closed out the quarter with a 10-6 run in the final two minutes to lead 25-18 at the end of the first.
The Gators opened the second with a 7-2 run to lead by as many as 12 before Dye hit a short jumper to cut the deficit to 32-22 with 6:48 left in the half. Both teams were held scoreless for more than three minutes before Smith ended the drought with a layup at the 3:29 mark. Key hit a pair of free throws and Darby followed it up with another 3-pointer to give the Lady Vols some momentum, and UT closed out the half on a 7-2 run to cut the gap to seven by halftime at 36-29.
The Gators came out of the locker room hot, hitting a scorching 69.2 percent of their shots on 9-of-13 marksmanship from the floor in the third quarter. Back-to-back buckets by Smith once again moved the Gators out front by double digits in the opening minute of the second half, but Dye answered with a layup and Burrell followed it up with a jumper to pull UT within seven by the 6:30 mark.
The Gators rallied back, launching into a 12-2 run fueled by six quick points by Rickards to lead 52-35 before Sara Puckett ended the skid with a layup. UF extended its lead to 21 before four straight points by Jordan Walker sent the game into the fourth quarter with a score of 59-41.
Florida continued to shoot with precision in the final period, hitting three of its first four shots, including two treys to build its lead to 22 points with 8:02 left in the game. A 3-pointer by Darby on the next possession gave UT some life, setting off an 8-2 run that cut the deficit to 16 just over a minute later. An old-fashioned three-point play by Burrell pulled the Lady Vols within 15 with just under six minutes to play, but that was as close as UT would get. Florida closed out the game with an 11-1 run to win 84-59.
Darby From Distance
Tess Darby drained three treys on the night, going three of four from behind the arc. She has hit 32 threes on the season, and in SEC play she is averaging a smooth 45.7 percent from long range.
Next Up For UT Lady Vols Basketball
The Tennessee women’s basketball team will continue its stint on the road, traveling to No. 10/9 UConn for a noon match-up on Sunday. The game will be televised on FOX.
Tennessee 59, Florida 84