UF women ready for visiting Vols

Published: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 5:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 5:35 p.m.

The thing about knocking Goliath down is that the giant usually gets back up, only angrier.

It was nearly a year ago that a senior-laden Florida women's basketball team knocked off juggernaut Tennessee, 66-57, at the O'Connell Center during a stretch in which the Gators went 22-1 and rose into the top-10 in the national rankings.

A similar Volunteer squad returns to Gainesville today for a 7 p.m. tipoff. While the players remain mostly the same, the experience levels have shifted, as a young Tennessee squad last year has shown its experience during a 14-1 start and No. 4 ranking this season. Florida, on the other hand, struggled early while looking for players to replace the production of the graduated Sha Brooks and Marshae Dotson.

“(Last year) was a hard-fought, tough game,” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. “At the same time, I just didn't feel like our young basketball team was ready to go against the experience they had and the home court advantage they had.

“ I firmly believe we're better prepared this year to go to Florida and play our game.”

After having just two players in double figures against the Gators last season, Summitt's squad enters with three averaging 10-or-more points, led by junior guard Angie Bjorklund's 16.5 a game. Sophomores Shekinna Stricklen (13.7 ppg, 6.7 rebounds) and Glory Johnson (12.9, 8.5) also make for tough matchups.

“They're super talented and are playing very, very well,” said UF coach Amanda Butler, who grew up 15 miles from the Tennessee campus and attended Summitt's summer camps as a youth. “We know that we've got to play a very good basketball game to compete with them. Will we be ready? Absolutely.”

Butler's Gators enter the game with a 9-7 record (2-1 SEC) and having won six of their last eight games. Sophomore Jordan Jones is the only Gator averaging double digits, with 11 points to go with 3.3 assists and nearly two steals per contest. Senior point guard Lonnika Thompson is playing the best basketball of her career and enters with a 9.3 ppg average on 54.5 percent long-range shooting through three SEC games.

“The reality is that we're just trying to get our third win in the SEC,” Butler said. “It just so happens that we're playing Tennessee.”

Florida is 3-38 against the Volunteers and has another meeting with the team scheduled in Knoxville on Feb. 14. Butler, who called Summitt “the greatest coach in the history of ever,” has done her best to downplay the significance of playing Tennessee, but admits her friends and family contact her more during the weeks that the Volunteers are on the schedule.

Summitt, a legend in Tennessee athletics, earned career victory No. 1,000 just before falling to the Gators last season. In contrast, Florida played its 1,000th overall game one week before Summitt's milestone. Summitt's 500th win came early in Butler's senior season as a Gator point guard and her first victory at the school happened two months before Butler's third birthday.

“What you need to remember is that with all the fireworks and excitement that surround this game, it counts the same as the Auburn game did,” Butler said. “It counts the same as the Arkansas game or the Georgia game. You can't play intimidated or scared or let things get out of whack.”

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