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Sunday, January 24, 2021

Gators struggling with senior limited by injury

<p>Senior forward Jennifer George dribbles in the lane during Florida's 77-72 win against LSU in the O'Connell Center.&nbsp;</p>

Senior forward Jennifer George dribbles in the lane during Florida's 77-72 win against LSU in the O'Connell Center. 

Jennifer George first suffered a right shoulder dislocation against LSU on Jan. 6, and the effects of the injury are lingering as Florida muddles through Southeastern Conference play.

The Gators’ current four-game losing streak — its first such slide since dropping four straight contests in February 2011 — has UF tied with four other teams for eighth in the conference.

With its top performer limited for much of January, Florida has looked the part of the nation’s fifth-least experienced team.

"Jennifer’s injury has gotten us out of sync," coach Amanda Butler said. "There’s not any reason to act like it’s not having an impact. Certainly it’s having an impact."

George overcame the initial injury without missing a game. However, she suffered a second dislocation in the first half against Tennessee on Jan. 13.

Since then, UF has struggled. The Gators fell to the Volunteers 78-75 in overtime before dropping their next two games at home to then-No. 19 South Carolina and Ole Miss, a team that was winless in five SEC games before defeating Florida 88-81.

George sat out against the Gamecocks before returning to face the Rebels. But she was not her usual self in the loss, scoring only six points on 2-of-5 shooting in 23 minutes.

Against No. 14 Georgia, Florida’s lone senior continued to battle her physical limitations. She was one of four Gators who notched eight points. But without a fully productive anchor in the middle, UF was overmatched by UGA.

"It was kind of a worst-case scenario," Butler said of her team’s loss to Georgia. "You’re playing one of the best teams in our league after they have had a bye week and coming off an embarrassing loss."

George is currently dealing with her own worst-case scenario.

With no remaining eligibility after this season, she has had no choice but to battle through the pain.

She leads Florida with 12.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game but has averaged just 7.3 points and 3.3 rebounds per game during the Gators’ losing streak.

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"My senior year — you don’t want to miss any time," George said. "It’s frustrating not being at full speed and full strength and helping the team out as much as I know I can."

A lingering issue — other than the discomfort of wearing a brace to support her shoulder — is the internal conflict George deals with each time she steps on the floor.

After dealing with the recurring shoulder injury for the past month, she continues to worry about another setback.

"It runs through my mind," George said. "I’m not as aggressive as I used to be. I’m trying to work on that as much as possible."

Sophomore Kayla Lewis has had her own frustrations stemming from injury. She missed 49 games during her first two seasons with Florida due to multiple lower-body injuries.

Lewis expects a fully healthy George to help guide the Gators out of their current struggles but understands the progression of returning from an injury.

"It’s a part of the process of being injured," Lewis said. "I’m a testament to that. It takes a little bit of time to get back in sync. [George] is showing how much she wants to play just being out there."

Contact Phillip Heilman at pheilman@alligator.org.

Senior forward Jennifer George dribbles in the lane during Florida's 77-72 win against LSU in the O'Connell Center. 

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