UF WOMEN'S BASKETBALL
Peoples provides spark in Gators' win streak
Published: Saturday, December 28, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 27, 2013 at 8:51 p.m.
The Peoples Express is rolling, and so is the Florida women's basketball team.
Who: Georgetown (6-5) at Florida (9-3)
When: Today, 2 p.m.
TV: Sun Sports (Cox channel 48/1048)
Cassie Peoples, a 5-foot-6, redshirt sophomore point guard from San Antonio, earned Tournament MVP honors at the 23rd annual Gator Holiday Classic last weekend en route to leading Florida (9-3) to the team title.
In wins over Tennessee State (86-56) and FIU (90-74), Peoples totaled 40 points, highlighted by a career-high 24 points in the championship final, and shot a combined 16 of 24 (66.7 percent) from the field, including 4 of 8 from 3-point range. She added eight assists and ignited a pressure defense that forced 41 turnovers, leading to a 30-2 UF advantage in fast-break points.
Making it all the more special was the fact that a number of family members, including her parents and grandparents, traveled all the way from the Lone Star State to see her play.
“It was a fun tournament,” Peoples said. “It was definitely exciting having my family here and being able to put things together as far as my game, and it was also great to see the team come together the way we've known that we could. The most pleasing thing for me is to see our team play so well.”
Peoples has started the last four games and has sparked a season-high, five-game UF winning streak.
After coming off the bench to score 10 points and dish out seven assists in a come-from-behind, 73-70 win over Oregon State, Peoples earned her first start against Troy on Dec. 4 and responded by scoring a then career-high 17 points and adding seven assists in a 104-74 road win — Florida's first game of 100 points or more since Dec. 28, 2000.
She followed that with 16 points, five assists and six steals in a 105-71 home win over St. Francis on Dec. 17, just the second time in program history UF has clipped the century mark in back-to-back games.
“Cassie is someone who just really, really relishes the role of being the point guard,” coach and former UF point guard Amanda Butler said. “That's where she wants to be on the floor, and it's an important quality that your floor general has to have. They have to want to be there if they're going to have a chance at doing that job really well, because it's a tough job.”
Peoples had to be plenty tough just to get to this point.
A highly touted prep talent who played as a freshman at Daytona Beach Father Lopez before her family moved to Texas, Peoples played her last three years at Cypress-Fairbanks High School in Houston and was named a 2011 McDonald's All-American.
She signed with Texas and was named Big 12 Preseason Co-Freshman of the Year, but after playing in the first six games, her season came to an abrupt halt against Tennessee on Dec. 4, 2011, when she suffered a fractured left tibia that required surgery and the insertion of an intramedullary (IM) rod.
Peoples received a medical redshirt, but later decided to transfer and, after enrolling at UF, sat out the 2012-13 season per NCAA guidelines.
She did practice with the Gators but suffered another setback last January, this time a torn labrum to her right shoulder that required surgery a month later.
What had been a 706-day drought from competition finally ended when Peoples came off the bench in UF's Nov. 8 season-opening win over Bethune-Cookman.
“It's definitely different when you get in a game than when you're just practicing,” Peoples said. “I definitely feel like I'm getting in the groove of things and my timing is starting to get a little bit better. I still think I have a little bit to go to get back to who I am as a player.”
It's a process that bears watching.
“Cassie is learning and taking advantage of the opportunities, figuring out how to make her plays,” Butler said. “It's hard for me sometimes because I forget that she's really and truly just a freshman even though she's been in college for a few years.
“She's really experiencing her first full year of college basketball, so her having the chance to grow in a very tough role is important.”