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Sunday, November 28, 2021
<p>Carlie Needles dribbles the ball down the court during Florida's loss to Missouri on Thursday in the O'Connell Center.</p>

Carlie Needles dribbles the ball down the court during Florida's loss to Missouri on Thursday in the O'Connell Center.

In both 2009 and 2010, current Gator guard Carlie Needles arrived at the Coors Events Center in Boulder, Colorado, with high hopes.

A native of Highlands Ranch, Needles was there as part of Colorado’s high school final four, representing her school ThunderRidge.

Her team had two chances to bring home a state title on that very floor, but failed in each attempt.

“Every year that we played there, we actually lost,” Needles said.

Over Thanksgiving break, the UF women’s basketball team travelled to that very same court to play in the Omni Hotels Classic hosted by the University of Colorado. In the two-day tournament, the redshirt senior who could never win the title in that building all those many years ago finally wouldn’t come out of the arena disappointed.

“That memory of losing on that court always -- I don’t wanna end my basketball career with an L on that floor. I guess it’s a little bit of motivation.”

A little bit of motivation indeed.

Playing in two games, Florida (5-1) first defeated Ball State (3-2) 85-79 in a Friday night thriller.

With 3:22 remaining in the fourth, Florida trailed by seven points. However, the Gators used a 15-2 run to secure a spot in the tournament’s championship game. Sophomore forward Haley Lorenzen had a team- and season-high 20 points for Florida, with junior guard Simone Westbrook coming off the bench and providing a season-high 17 points of her own.

Needles also played well in the first game, scoring 13 points and playing more minutes than anyone with 32.

In the championship, the Gators found themselves matched up with the hometown Colorado Buffaloes (3-2). And while it may not have had as much excitement as the first game, the result was just as -- if not even more -- meaningful.

Florida defeated the Buffaloes by a final tally of 83-61, and claimed the tournament trophy in the process.

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Needles once again played more than anyone else, once again recording 32 minutes. That’s appropriate being that she was playing in her home state. Despite not registering huge statistics, her leadership and durability undoubtedly allowed her to go out a winner in what will likely be her last competitive basketball game in the state of Colorado.

Florida’s leading scorers in the championship game were a pair of senior guards who came off the bench in Cassie Peoples and January Miller, who put up 14 and 11 points, respectively.

“I thought January (Miller) really, really set a tone for us tonight,” head coach Amanda Butler said in a release.

“I’m really proud of her. She played like a senior in every way. Cassie (Peoples) gave us great minutes in the second half. And like January, when she got in the game, she attacked, followed the game plan and put her teammates in position to score.”

The championship game was not without concerns, however, namely the foul trouble of Lorenzen and junior forward Ronni Williams.

Lorenzen picked up two fouls only 1:52 into the game, but did rebound by only committing one more in her 17 minutes of play. Her performance in both games combined was good enough to earn her Tournament MVP honors.

Williams, who has been the Gators’ most consistent scorer so far this year, was limited to 13 minutes because of her foul woes and ended up fouling out for the second time this year.

For her part, Butler didn’t seem too concerned with the fouls.

“We wanted to play our game,” she said.

“We wanted to attack on our end and drive hard in the paint. Fouls were just not something we were going to dwell on.”

Butler was also understandably pleased with her team’s performance, saying that it will serve as a major stepping stone for what this team wants its identity to be.

“Being this tough on the road and beating two very, very good teams, I thought we did an outstanding job,” she said.

“I thought there was a tremendous amount of adversity and distraction tonight and our team wasn’t having any of that. We were tough. We stayed focused and we were about each other and that’s why the score looks the way it does.”

 Follow Ethan Bauer on Twitter @ebaueri

Carlie Needles dribbles the ball down the court during Florida's loss to Missouri on Thursday in the O'Connell Center.

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