Kiara Smith injures knee as Florida authors incredible comeback to open 2022 SEC Tournament

By Adam Silverstein
March 3, 2022
Kiara Smith injures knee as Florida authors incredible comeback to open 2022 SEC Tournament

Image Credit: GatorsWBK / Twitter

Mixed emotions permeated Florida Gators women’s basketball Thursday afternoon after an astounding come-from-behind 53-52 win over the (13) Vanderbilt Commodores to open the 2022 SEC Tournament. In the same game that (5) Florida authored arguably its most impressive comeback of the year, the team may have lost its biggest star for the remainder of the postseason.

Dribbling into the paint while trying to find an opening, redshirt senior Kiara Smith’s right leg slid on the court as she passed the ball and crumbled to the hardwood. Smith was in obvious, immediate pain and laid on the court clutching her knee for minutes before she was eventually carried off the court by trainers. She was unable to put any pressure on the appendage in what looked to be a worst-case scenario injury for the team’s leader and best player.

Smith was not having her best game Thursday with seven points on 3 of 13 shooting, but her five assists and five rebounds proved how valuable it is for her to be on the court at all times. She has averaged team-highs of 14.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.4 steals per game this season.

The Gators trailed in the first three periods Thursday and at one point faced a 14-point deficit late in the third quarter. Florida had cut that disadvantage to three at the time of Smith’s injury and battled with Vanderbilt over the game’s final few minutes.

After some back-and-forth action, senior G Zippy Broughton connected on her second straight layup to again put UF within a single point of VU with 37 seconds left. The Gators got a stop on the ensuing possession and pressured the Commodores down the court with junior G Nina Rickards forcing her way into the paint before drawing a foul. She made both free throws, giving Florida its first lead on Vanderbilt with just 8 seconds remaining, and UF got a huge block by sophomore forward Jordyn Merritt on the other end to close out the victory.

It was the second time in three days that the Gators pieced together a comeback win over the ‘Dores on the hardwood as the men’s program ended its meeting with a 14-2 run on Tuesday in Nashville, Tennessee.

Kelly Rae Finely, in her first game as the program’s permanent head coach, broke down emotionally after the win as she and some players cried int he post-game huddle over Smith’s injury.

“My tears are not because of disappointment. It’s just your heart aches when you care about each other,” Finley said after the game. “To finish the way we did — and in the fashion that we did — isn’t surprising because it’s who we are. I’m incredibly proud and eager to play [Friday].”

There’s no doubt that the Gators pushed themselves hard down the stretch on behalf of Smith, but they were unable to regroup Friday, falling 70-60 to (4) Ole Miss and being bounced from the SEC Tournament.

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