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Florida vs. UCF, 2022 NCAA Tournament Game Thread: Can the Gators make March magic?

Florida’s unbelievable season seems to have one more opportunity for magic and madness.

Dayton v Florida Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

The Florida Gators women’s basketball team made magic of a season that began under a cloud of the abuse alleged under its former coach.

A slow start gave way to shocking and dominant wins — over rivals and ranked teams — despite the Gators once again losing their leading scorer and arguably most talented player to injury. And then a late-season swoon with unexpected losses led to a stunning comeback amid more injuries in the SEC Tournament, and a disappointing seeding in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.

But the Gators will get a chance to play this Saturday, as a No. 10 seed against No. 7 seed UCF (3:30 p.m., ESPNews or WatchESPN) — and they have shown all year what they can do, given just a chance.

Florida will play today without injured senior star Kiki Smith, and might not have a full-strength Jordyn Merritt, as both players were knocked out of the SEC Tournament with injuries. They still have a backcourt consisting of Zippy Broughton and Nina Rickards, and will likely play desperate defense against the Knights, hoping to extend their season for two more days and one more game.

Keeping the immaculately-named Diamond Battles in check and keeping sharpshooter Alisha Lewis from doing too much damage from distance will be key to Florida’s hopes. And if Florida can’t get its own offense going — perhaps by fueling it with turnovers — it might not matter what the Gators do to Battles, Lewis, or the other three Knights averaging at least nine points per game; the all-time record in the series between the teams being 25-0 in Florida’s favor would seem almost irrelevant to this matchup, and UCF’s 25-3 record far more likely to be fortune-telling.

Again, though: All this Florida team has needed is a chance.

They have one — and can earn another one — on this Saturday.