GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Kiki Smith scored 25 points, Nina Rickards added 16 and Florida stunned No. 7 Tennessee 84-59 on Thursday night, giving the Gators their fifth victory in 59 meetings between the teams.
It was Florida’s biggest win in the series. None of the previous four had been by more than nine points.
Zippy Broughton chipped in 10 points, six rebounds and six assists for the Gators (16-6, 6-3 Southeastern Conference), who have become one of college basketball’s biggest surprises following abuse allegations that ended with former coach Cam Newbauer’s resignation in mid-July.
Interim coach Kelly Rae Finley took over and now has the Gators on the verge of being nationally ranked for the first time since December 2016. Florida won for the sixth time in seven games, with the lone loss being a 62-50 setback to top-ranked South Carolina on Sunday in which the Gators trailed 19-3 after the first quarter.
They had no such issues against Tennessee (19-3, 8-2).
Florida opened up a double-digit lead midway through the first quarter and started to pull away in the third. Smith and Broughton dominated the guard matchup, breaking down Tennessee’s defense and creating open shots. They also helped forced 18 turnovers that Florida turned into 26 points.
The Gators outscored the Lady Vols 23-12 in the third and shot a blistering 65.5% in the second half. Tennessee looked gassed at times, possibly because the Lady Vols were playing on the road on short rest. Plus, they needed overtime to beat Arkansas on Monday night.
Alexus Dye led Tennessee with 10 points and six rebounds. Rae Burrell added nine points.
Florida outscored Tennessee 24-1 on fast breaks.
The Lady Vols will need to win at UConn to avoid dropping out of the top 10 of the AP women’s college basketball poll.
Tennessee: The Lady Vols need better guard play. Senior Burrell, standout junior Jordan Horston and graduate transfer Jordan Walker turned the ball over a combined 11 times in the first half, the main reason Tennessee trailed 36-29 at the break and was down by as many as 12 in the second quarter.
Florida: The Gators have shown plenty of resiliency since Lavender Briggs, who averaged 12.5 points and 5.6 rebounds this season, decided to transfer following a shin injury. Florida has won six of seven since her departure.
Tennessee: Plays at No. 10 UConn on Sunday, a nationally televised game on Fox.
Florida: Plays its fifth consecutive game against ranked teams when it travels to face No. 14 Georgia on Sunday.