UF WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

Gators hope to show the doubters


Published: Thursday, January 6, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 6, 2005 at 1:16 a.m.

Once again, no one is picking Florida's women's basketball team to be much of a factor in the SEC. The Gators aren't anyone's sleeper pick to win the conference. They aren't even expected to finish in the top five.

Most outsiders are expecting a middle-of-the-road conference season for Florida. And it's these kinds of doubts that motivate the Gators as they open SEC play tonight at Arkansas (8 p.m., AM-850).

"That's what we like," senior Tamia Williams said. "We like to be the underdogs and have people sleep on us and not think we're going to play."

A year ago, that's just what happened. Florida was picked to finish sixth in the conference, but surprised many with a fourth-place finish. Their 8-6 SEC season was highlighted by upset wins at Vanderbilt, Georgia and Auburn.

"Last year a lot of people doubted us early," junior Bernice Mosby said, "and we finished fourth."

Williams said she knows why.

"I think a lot of people underestimated us last year based on our previous season (9-19)," she said. "I think a lot of people thought we'd have the same results. And I think a lot of people are going to underestimate us a lot more this season without Vanessa (Hayden) in the middle."

It's true. All-American center Hayden is gone, and most expect Florida to flounder. The Gators are again picked to finish sixth in the SEC.

But who knows? The Gators start five upperclassmen and are confident after last year's SEC run.

"You know me, I take it one game at a time," Peck said. "I think there's a lot of parity in this conference. There's a lot of talent. There's a lot of good coaches."

But it may be a harder task this season for the Gators to hang with the conference's elite. Florida enters SEC play without starting shooting guard Danielle Santos. Santos' right foot remains in a boot after she suffered a stress fracture in Florida's Dec. 19 loss at Baylor.

Peck said the team will re-evaluate Santos later this week, but it appears her return may be weeks away. With home games against Auburn and No. 1 LSU on the horizon, the Gators could use their top 3-point shooter and third-leading scorer.

"We're day-to-day," Peck said. "Originally, it was about three to four weeks. I think we're venturing into four weeks at the end of this week. Then, we'll have a better idea."

Florida lost its first game without Santos, a double-overtime heartbreaker to Richmond on Dec. 21. But the Gators have won three straight since, and carry a little momentum into the SEC season. Nonetheless, the Gators admit their 9-4 nonconference record was a bit disappointing.

"I'm a little greedy, so I think we could be a little bit better," Peck said. "Because I have a lot of confidence in this team and their abilities."

Said Williams: "I expected us to be better because there were some teams going in I thought we should have beat. We had some close games going down the stretch that I think we should have won. But we have to learn from it. We learn from our wins and we learn from our losses."

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