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Sunday, May 16, 2021
<p>Brooke Copeland attempts a three-point shot during Florida's win against Stetson.</p>

Brooke Copeland attempts a three-point shot during Florida's win against Stetson.

Whenever Carlie Needles pulled up from behind the three-point line, opposing defenses worried.

On a Gators basketball team that finished 175th nationally in three-point percentage, the guard from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, was a genuine long-range threat. She led her team both in three-pointers attempted (151) and made (47), placing second in three-point percentage (.311) among players who fired 50 threes or more.

Shooters like Needles aren’t easily replaceable. After all, this was a player who, as a high schooler, pushed NBA superstar Carmelo Anthony to the brink in a three-point shooting contest.

“It’s kind of impossible (when) one person leaves or graduates … to insert another person in the perfect mold of what was left,” UF coach Amanda Butler said. “What do you do?”’

The Gators have relied on their depth to replace Needles, rebuilding her strengths by committee.

After averaging 5.4 minutes per game last season — tied for the fewest on the team — junior forward Brooke Copeland was pinpointed by Butler to step up as the team’s next sniper and is in line for a bump in playing time as a result. Eleanna Christinaki, Elif Portakal and Haley Lorenzen are also primed to contribute from beyond the arc.

“I think you’ll see a lot of different Gators — when there’s an opportunity for what we call a ‘good three’ — step up and knock them down,” Butler said.

However, good two-way players are rare. In addition to her offensive abilities, Needles played with tenacity on defense. Excelling in full-court, one-on-one defense, she finished third on the team with 1.4 steals per game.

“Carlie was one of those players, and just one of those people, that you wanted to be around,” Butler said. “She’s not even as tall as me, (but) that fighting spirit in that package was really an inspiration to her teammates.”

Although she’s gone, that inspiration remains.

While the coaching staff stresses the importance of defense, one particular player has caught Butler’s eye early on.

Recruited as a scorer, freshman guard Sydney Searcy has impressed on the defensive end during scrimmages. Drawing comparisons to both Needles and the injured Simone Westbrook, Searcy was described by Butler as a “force” and figures to carry the mantle in their absences.

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“We pride ourselves on being aggressive,” Butler said. “We want to keep our foot on the gas. We want to go until we’re stopped. We want to have that fearless spirit that Carlie very much embodied last year.”

Contact Alejandro Lopez at alopez@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @ajlb95.

Brooke Copeland attempts a three-point shot during Florida's win against Stetson.

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