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<p>UF guard Brooke Copeland drives into the paint during Florida's win against Savannah State on Nov. 24, 2015.</p>

UF guard Brooke Copeland drives into the paint during Florida's win against Savannah State on Nov. 24, 2015.

Florida women’s basketball coach Amanda Butler has been instructing her players to “love the ball.”

Protecting the basketball has been an issue for her program all season, with its 282 turnovers leading the Southeastern Conference by a landslide.

And when the Gators took the court against Auburn on Sunday in their first SEC battle of the new year, a suffocating full-court press from the Tigers forced 26 UF turnovers.

Butler knows her team’s inconsistency at seeing possessions all the way through dampens its chances of being successful in conference play, and it’s become a focal point in her practices recently.

“We’ve got to cherish (the ball) a little bit more when we’ve got it in our hands,” she said. “We can’t be so flippant with our passes and just be really sharp with our decisions.”

The coach, in her 10th season at Florida, has even implemented an analogy in team meetings to help her players take each possession more seriously.

“The concept of there being a $100 bill on every ball,” junior forward Brooke Copeland said.

“We’re trying to change our mindset of what it really means to take care of the basketball.”

If there is ever a time the Gators (9-5, 0-1 SEC) need to take care of the basketball, it’s tonight when they take on LSU.

The Tigers (11-3, 0-1 SEC) specialize in manipulating their opponents into making mistakes. They lead the conference with 13.4 steals per game and have scored 207 points off turnovers over their seven previous contests.

“Taking care of the basketball is the number one key to the game,” assistant coach Bill Ferrara said. “We have a lot of respect for them defensively.”

Offensively for UF, senior forward Ronni Williams has shouldered the scoring load since sophomore guard Eleanna Christinaki left the team in mid-December.

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The Daytona Beach native has averaged 26.3 points per game since Dec. 20 on 43-of-58 shooting from the floor. Her season average of 18.4 points per game also leads all players in the SEC, drawing praise from her coaches and teammates.

“She (is) always just the emotional leader that we need,” Copeland said. “In going through difficult times, she really steps up and we know that everything is going to be OK because we have Ronni leading us.”

Contact Dylan Dixon at ddixon@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @dylanrdixon.

UF guard Brooke Copeland drives into the paint during Florida's win against Savannah State on Nov. 24, 2015.

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