NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Florida’s Nina Rickards hit two free throws with eight seconds to play Thursday giving Florida its first and only lead and the Gators held on to beat Vanderbilt 53-52 at Bridgestone Arena in the second round of the SEC Tournament.
The Commodores, who ended their season at 14-18, had two chances for a game-winning shot as time ran out.
Florida (21-9) ended the game on a 23-8 run.
Vanderbilt had a 14-point lead in the third quarter and led by 11 going into the final period. Florida refused to go quietly and cut the deficit to five with 6:59 to go and again with 4:42 left.
The margin shrunk to three with 4:16 left and then Zipporah Broughton’s jumper from the left side with 3:18 on the clock got the Gators within 48-47.
Florida couldn’t get any closer than that the rest of the way – until Rickards sank two free throws with eight seconds on the clock.
Florida advances to face Mississippi at 2:30 p.m. Friday.
Vanderbilt started Thursday’s game much like it started Wednesday’s – hot. An 8-0 run featured back-to-back 3s from Moore and Alexander, respectively, and a putback by Jordyn Cambridge.
It took Florida nearly five minutes to score after the Commodores had already built a 12-0 start.
The Gators found their footing and put together an 8-0 run at the end of the period to get within 16-12 going into the second frame. Vanderbilt went scoreless the final 3:22 of the period.
That drought lasted another 1:55 into the second quarter before an Alexander layup put Vandy ahead 18-14.
Florida was able to knot the score at 18-all, but Moore answered on the other end with a badly-needed triple from the left wing. Kaylon Smith later gave Vanderbilt some breathing room with jumpers that made it 23-18 and then 25-20.
A Moore 3-pointer from the right corner and an Alexander three-point play ended the first half for the Commodores and gave them a 31-22 lead. Vandy forced 13 first-half turnovers out of the Gators and got 23 points combined from Moore and Alexander.
Moore, with another 3, put Vanderbilt ahead 10 at 34-24 early in the third quarter. The Commodores wouldn’t score for another four minutes until a pair of Yaubryon Chambers free throws put Vandy ahead 36-29.
Alexander put the Commodores ahead 13 with a layup and then two free throws. Washington gave Vandy its biggest lead at that point – 44-30 – with a bucket down low and the Commodores were cruising at that point.
Vandy would settle for a 44-33 advantage going into the final 10 minutes, a final 10 minutes that turned out to be the last of its season.
• Vanderbilt is now 34-27 all-time against Florida and 4-4 against the Gators on a neutral court. Florida is now 8-2 in the last 10 games against Vandy.
• Cambridge finished the season with 117 steals, the second-most in a single Vanderbilt season. Deborah Denton is first with 123.
• Cambridge is now eighth in Vanderbilt history with 222 career steals.
• Vanderbilt head coach Shea Ralph (14) finished tied with Stephanie White for the third-most wins in a first season by a Vanderbilt head coach. Joe Pepper won 15 and Jim Foster and Melanie Balcomb each won 22 in their respective first campaigns.