UF women's hoops tips off today

P.K. Yonge alum Jaterra Bonds finished second on the Gator women's basketball team in scoring with an average of 9.9 points per game.

Matt Stamey/Staff Photographer
Published: Thursday, November 10, 2011 at 11:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 10, 2011 at 11:16 p.m.

Five could be a very fortunate number for the 2011-12 Florida women's basketball team.


Season opener

Who: Michigan vs. Florida
When: Friday, 4:30 p.m.
Where: O'Connell Center
Radio: 99.5 FM

For starters, head coach Amanda Butler is entering her fifth season at UF. In addition, there are five seniors on this year's roster. Top it off with the fact that for the first time in Butler's tenure, UF returns all five starters, and it's easy to understand the upbeat attitude surrounding Butler's program heading into the season opener against Michigan in the O'Connell Center today.

While UF (20-15, 7-9 SEC last year) did win 20 games last season, more than half (eight) of the Gators' losses were by six points or less, including a season-ending one at Charlotte, 81-77 in overtime, with a WNIT semifinal berth on the line.

Butler hopes those tough losses lead to some clutch wins this season.

“We have a senior-led team, we have a majority of returners, we have people that have played a lot of different roles and now have at least a year of experience underneath their belt, and I think all those hard lessons that we learned, we're going to take them to heart,” said Butler, whose 78 wins in her first four seasons are the most by any coach in program history.

“We're going to see some efforts and some play where you've got some young ladies who are very determined to show how good they are, not just how close to being good they are."

There is a definite sense of urgency with UF's seniors.

“We've played the most, we've been in the difficult situations, you know, wins and losses, so that's a good starting point,” said 6-foot-4 senior center Azania Stewart. “But I think we all are hungry and ready for what it's going to take this year to keep winning and make it to the (NCAA) Tournament.”

Seven guards dot the roster, led by seniors Deana Allen and Lanita Bartley and redshirt senior Jordan Jones, the latter of whom led the team in scoring with a 10.2-point average. Sophomores Jaterra Bonds, Kayla Lewis and Brittany Shine round out the backcourt brigade. Freshman guard Carlie Needles suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice last Sunday.

Bonds, the point guard who led P.K. Yonge to the 2010 Class 2A state title, finished second on the team to Jones in scoring last season, averaging 9.9 points, and was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team.

In addition, 5-10 freshman Andrea Vilaro Aragones from Barcelona, Spain, who has international experience, can play both the off guard and small forward positions. But Aragones is on bereavement leave dealing with the death of her mother due to cancer.

There's good length and athleticism inside, led by Stewart in the post and returning forwards Ndidi Madu (6-1, redshirt senior), Jennifer George (6-0, junior) and Lily Svete (6-2, redshirt sophomore).

Another former area standout, Viktorija Dimaite, will redshirt this season. The 6-4 freshman center, a Lithuanian native who helped The Rock win the 2010 Class A state title, tore ligaments in her ankle over the summer and is still rehabilitating.

Florida has made one NCAA Tournament appearance under Butler (2009). UF made it to the WNIT in each of her other three seasons, making her the first coach in program history to take her first four teams to postseason play.

There's no doubt, though, these Gators have their sights set on the Big Dance.

“We look at it as this is our last chance to make history and turn this program around,” Allen said. “We're just excited to get the season going and make our fans happy, and maybe we can make some history in the process.”

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