Sunday’s Senior Day surely wasn’t how senior guard Carlie Needles imagined.
After sustaining a concussion during Thursday’s game at LSU, the fifth-year starter was forced to watch the game from the bench.
“It’s not the place I wanted to be tonight,” she said, “but I trusted that my team was gonna get it done.”
As it turned out, her trust was well-placed.
Despite getting blown out by 22 at Auburn just two weeks ago, Florida picked up a 56-49 win over the Tigers on Sunday.
“When we played at Auburn, we absolutely just were not us from a personality standpoint,” UF coach Amanda Butler said. “Our energy wasn’t good, our huddles weren’t tight, we were very disjointed and just not really working together as a unit.”
After Sunday’s game, Butler told a different story.
“It was absolutely a representation of the way this team has played all season long,” she said.
With Needles out, it was another senior guard who picked up the slack: January Miller.
Miller, Florida’s career scoring leader despite only averaging 6.1 points per game this season, started the game off like she had something to prove.
Tied 6-6 four minutes into the game, Miller missed a jump shot but grabbed her own rebound and was able to put it back for the score.
Before halftime, she did the same thing again on a wide-open fast-break layup: a miss, a rebound over two Auburn (18-11, 8-8 Southeastern Conference) defenders, and a highly contested putback score.
The extra effort plays allowed Miller, along with fellow senior Cassie Peoples, to lead the Gators with 11 points apiece.
“Knowing that it was my last time playing here at the O’Dome definitely put some fire under me,” Miller said.
Despite wanting to play well on Senior Day, the Gators shot a horrendous 13-of-51 from the field — 25.5 percent — including 2-of-18 from three.
But free throw shooting was key for Florida (22-7, 10-6 SEC), as the Gators converted on a whopping 28-of-35. Those buckets from the charity stripe accounted for exactly half of UF’s total points.
Auburn had a similarly awful shooting day, going 20-of-51 — 39.2 percent — from the field and 3-of-12 from downtown. Except for the Tigers, the struggles extended to the line, where they went 6-of-16.
Florida players ended up on the floor more times than the coaches likely would’ve liked, forced 28 turnovers and showed enough fight late to pull out the win.
“I thought they were fighting to be better on every possession, and that was really important for us,” Butler said.
With the win and Georgia’s loss to Tennessee earlier in the day, UF will go into the SEC tournament as the 4-seed with a double bye. After being picked to finish near the bottom of the conference by the media earlier in the year, the team isn’t surprised at the success it has had.
“Even though everyone else chose us 12th, we did not choose ourselves there,” Needles said. “This year might be a surprise to everyone else, but we worked really hard in what we’ve been doing and we knew if we kept doing what we were supposed to be doing, that we would be in this position.”