As it became clear that Florida was going to lose to Georgia for the second time this year last Sunday, all Cassie Peoples could do was watch and wonder what could have been.
The redshirt senior guard was serving her second suspension of the season for a “violation of team culture,” and didn’t even make the trip to Athens.
But on Thursday night, she came back eager to make up for the time she missed.
And in Florida’s 82-56 shellacking of LSU on the road, she did just that by leading the Gators with a season-high 22 points.
“It was really important for her to play that well for her team,” coach Amanda Butler said of Peoples’ performance. “Cassie did a great job, as you would expect a senior to do, of stepping up … and hitting big shots.”
For the SEC’s worst offensive team — averaging more than six points less than the second-worst team in the conference — the Tigers started the game as hot-handed as they have all season.
At 38.2 percent before Thursday’s game, LSU’s shooting percentage had been abysmal. Yet, it swelled as high as 73 percent in the first half on Thursday.
When halftime rolled around, it had cooled off and was down to an above-average 54 percent to Florida’s 40.5 percent. But despite the disparity, the SEC-leading UF offense got the job done by relying on its three-point game.
While the Tigers — who are also the SEC’s worst three-point shooting team with just 47 made on the season — didn’t attempt a three-point shot in the first half, Florida found success from behind the arc.
“It’s just great to see not only our kids shoot so well, but shoot so well on the road,” Butler said. “It was really important for us tonight. That was the separating factor for us.”
The Gators shot 6-of-15 from the three-point line in the first half while attempting 13 more shots than LU, and led going into halftime.
In the second half, LSU cooled down while Florida got hot. The Gators shot 50 percent from the field in the half, which allowed them to comfortably pull away.
Florida also won the points-off-turnovers battle, scoring 35 to LSU’s 10.
While UF got a boost in Peoples’ return from her suspension, it suffered the loss of another redshirt senior to injury.
Carlie Needles, who had been the team’s vocal leader all season long, was sidelined with concussion-like symptoms early in the third quarter. She hit the 200th three-pointer of her career earlier in the game.
“She’s tough as nails, and whatever it is … I’m sure she’ll bounce back from it quickly, because there’s not anybody in this league that’s tougher than she is,” Butler said.
Florida hopes to have her back in time for Sunday’s regular season finale against Auburn, who handed UF its worst loss of the season two weeks ago. The Gators need a win and some help on Sunday to clinch a top-4 seed in the SEC tournament, which would give them a bye in the first two rounds.
“We want to go and compete and put ourselves in position to have the highest seed possible at the SEC tournament, which is going to be a heck of a lot of fun this year,” Butler said.
A radio broadcast contributed to this report.