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Thursday, June 13, 2024

UF wanted to make certain that LSU All-American center Sylvia Fowles would not beat them.

She didn't, tallying 9 points and three rebounds in 18 minutes.

The senior sat out the last 19:17 of the game to protect her right knee, which underwent an operation on Dec. 21, after tweaking it during the opening minute of the second half.

However, her teammates played well enough without her.

LSU guard Quianna Chaney led the No. 8 Tigers (18-3, 7-0 Southeastern Conference) with 19 points in their 85-71 nationally televised rout of the Gators (14-8, 3-4 SEC) on Sunday.

It wasn't nearly as close as the score might indicate.

Erica White added 16 points, six rebounds, and seven assists, while Allison Hightower added 14 points off the bench to keep LSU undefeated in conference play.

The Tigers commanded every aspect of the game due to their better shooting (46.4 percent to 38.2 percent) and fewer turnovers (11 to 19). But UF coach Amanda Butler was very proud of her team winning the rebounding battle, edging LSU 39-36.

UF trailed by 27 with 8:30 left to play but responded by going on a 13-2 run to trim the lead and bring some energy to the highest non-doubleheader crowd of the season 3,012 strong.

The Gators' 71 points are second-highest total the Tigers allowed all season, just shy of the 75 points No. 5 Maryland scored on Nov. 18.

Unfortunately, it was just too little, too late for UF on Sunday.

Butler was proud of her team's effort, but that doesn't help ease the pain of the loss.

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"Don't misunderstand me when I say I'm very proud of our effort," Butler said. "This is no way a moral victory because we didn't get blown out or something like that. We played a very, very good team and woke up and realized how good of a team we were in the second half."

Butler didn't hesitate to admit the difference Fowles' absence had on the game. LSU coach Van Chancellor said after the game that she could have come back and would have re-entered the game if the lead dipped below double digits.

"She's the best in the country," Butler said. "Absolutely it felt different. Their team is very, very confident with her in there."

There were a few bright spots for the Gators' loss.

Junior guard Sha Brooks hit her 143rd career 3-pointer, which moved her to third place in the UF record books. Brooks had missed her last 11 attempts before swishing one from the left corner with 7:21 left in the game.

Junior forward Marshae Dotson had one of her best performances of the season against one of the top frontcourts in the country. Dotson had 20 points and 14 rebounds, shooting 6 of 15 from the floor.

The Tigers had won their previous six conference games by an average of 27 points, and the opening minutes of the game made it look like Sunday would be no different.

LSU's experience - all five starters are seniors - paid off early as the Tigers opened the game with a 12-1 run. UF didn't make a field goal until the 15:36 mark of the first half but managed to cut the lead to 4 at the 13:31 mark. LSU answered with 7 straight points, and the Tigers continued to pull away, going into the halftime with a 45-28 lead. The margin isn't that surprising after glancing at the statistics. In the first half, UF shot the ball far worse (59.4 percent to 34.8 percent), committed more turnovers (11 to 7) and was outrebounded (15-13). The Tigers also made the Gators pay for sagging inside defensively on Fowles by drilling 46.2 percent of their shots from behind the 3-point line.

LSU has won eight of the last nine meetings between the two teams, and UF has lost 13 straight against ranked teams.

Sunday marks the first time all season that the Gators have lost back-to-back games at home.

The schedule doesn't get any easier from here, with Thursday's home contest against Auburn - a team that defeated Georgia by 30 earlier this season. The Gators lost to the Bulldogs 82-55 on Jan. 24.

"I think we leave here today a more confident team about the level that we can compete at," Butler said. "But we're in no way satisfied, because we still came up short."

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