After falling into an early 8-2 hole, Kansas women’s basketball had to regroup and refocus quickly. And KU did just that Sunday, as the Jayhawks defeated Florida 76-66 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
“They’re a good team,” KU coach Brandon Schneider said. “We played a really quality opponent that hopefully goes on and wins a lot of games.”
KU sophomore guard Brooklyn Mitchell started the game off strong for the Jayhawks, driving in for a layup on the opening possession. However, Florida soon took over with an 8-0 run as the Gators controlled much of the first quarter.
During the run, KU committed four turnovers and looked outmatched defensively next to Florida’s taller guards and physical forwards.
Regardless, KU managed to stay in the game at the end of the first quarter, trailing Florida 14-10. Much of this can be attributed to the Jayhawks not committing a single personal foul in the first quarter.
Things turned in KU’s favor midway through the second quarter, though, as freshman guard Zakiyah Franklin hit the first 3-pointer of the game to cut the lead to 18-17. Shortly after, junior forward Tina Stephens made a free throw to tie it 18-18.
But after Stephens missed her second free throw, a scoring drought for both sides ensued. Both teams began to rack up turnovers — 12 for KU and 11 for Florida in the first half — and the game became stagnant.
A 3-pointer from Mitchell regained the lead for KU and started a bit of an offensive melee to end the first half. Florida responded with a 3-pointer of its own — its lone 3-pointer of the half — and Franklin hit another on the next possession.
And while the Jayhawks were seemingly headed into halftime with a lead, Mitchell fouled Florida guard Kiara Smith with less than a second left in the half. Smith hit both free throws to tie the game at 29.
“I thought poor offensive play was affecting every phase of the game,” Schneider said. “I think at halftime we just talked about (how) we’re a team that really has to get organized in order to execute. We did a much better job of that in the second half.”
Coming out of the break, things picked right back up where they left off as both Florida and KU traded baskets back-and-forth. But the Jayhawks quickly went on the attack, jumping back into the lead thanks to a 12-2 run.
“In the first half we were kind of forcing stuff, so in the second half we had to really focus on shot selection,” freshman guard Holly Kersgieter said. “You just have to be smart how you offensively execute, and that was important to us. When you do that, it puts pressure on their offense too.”
As Kansas stretched the lead to 44-39 thanks to a corner 3-pointer from senior forward Mariane De Carvalho, Florida was forced to call a timeout and regroup. Eventually, Florida stopped the bleeding with a 3-pointer of its own from guard Nina Rickards.
But the Jayhawks held a 52-47 advantage at the end of the third quarter thanks to another 3-pointer from Kersgieter. KU shot 5-of-7 from beyond the arc in the quarter.
KU kept that momentum in the fourth quarter as well, stretching the lead to 64-55 thanks to a 6-0 run and Kersgieter continuing to make plays. She finished with 14 points in the game, scoring 11 in the second half.
“They’re long on the perimeter, which was tough at first, and we adjusted to that,” Kersgieter said. “And I was just hitting shots.”
Florida did put up a fight — the Gators cut the lead to 68-62 with 1:30 to play — but not enough to regain momentum. KU outscored Florida 47-37 in the second half and made free throws when it mattered down the stretch.
“We knew it was going to be a tough battle, and any time that you can get a win over a caliber opponent like Florida you have to feel really good about it,” Schneider said. “And hopefully it will be another boost of confidence for our young team.”
KU will next play Saint Mary’s at home on Dec. 15.