It isn’t a stretch to say this season hasn’t gone the way the Gators women’s basketball team had hoped.
Florida started the season with high ambitions and a hefty bit of motivation after not receiving a single vote in the AP Top 25 poll a season removed from reaching the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The plan was to prove the doubters wrong, and show that the team could adapt and recover from the loss of graduated star Jaterra Bonds.
But Florida (9-6, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) struggled in non-conference play, dropping home games to Wisconsin and Eastern Washington.
Facing a tougher-than-usual SEC this season, Florida needed to win as many games as possible heading into conference play.
The Gators went on the road and lost to Big East opponent St. John’s, a game that not only handed Florida its first loss but also its first major injury.
Sophomore Ronni Williams, whose strong play last season left those around her convinced she would take the next step this season, departed New York with a left ankle sprain.
While she didn’t miss much time with the injury, Williams has needed several games to regain her form and has been playing her best basketball as of late as the team heads into 2015.
With SEC play commencing with Friday’s home loss to LSU, Florida hopes to get its entire roster healthy as it prepares for the rest of its games against the deepest conference in basketball. The Gators missed the bench play of Antoinette Bannister, who has missed the past three games as she recovers from a concussion. Coach Amanda Butler insists Bannister is day-to-day, yet Cassie Peoples suffered the same injury in training camp and was limited for more than two weeks, so the timeline is individually relative to how a person’s body recovers.
Peoples, who leads Florida in scoring and assists, has played well in spurts for the Gators this season. The transfer guard from Texas has assumed more of a dual point guard role alongside backcourt leader Carlie Needles, and Peoples’ game has evolved into more of a pass-first style. Peoples is still growing as a passer, a fact that has caught the eye of Butler, and she has forced passes at times that have lead to critical turnovers.
The turnovers have been the Gators’ Achilles heel in several losses, and Florida is still working on valuing and taking care of the basketball more. The schedule only gets tougher from here on out, with games against Kentucky on the road and No. 1 South Carolina at home on Jan. 19.
Follow Graham Hall on Twitter @Graham311
Cassie Peoples looks to pass the ball during Florida's win against Stetson on Dec. 14