Gators ready for 40th season


Florida's Kayla Lewis is the Gators top returning rebounder (5.5 rpg).

Brett Le Blanc / Corresponden
Published: Friday, November 8, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 7, 2013 at 9:35 p.m.

The 40th season of Florida women's basketball begins today when the 2013-14 Gators host Bethune-Cookman in the O'Connell Center.

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Florida's Kayla Lewis is the Gators top returning rebounder (5.5 rpg).

Brett Le Blanc / Corresponden

Tip-off is set for 5:15 p.m. for the game, part of a season-opening double-header with the UF men who open their season against UNF at 3.

“It is really, really exciting,” coach Amanda Butler said. “We've kind of reached that point to where the thing we need to do is play games. You can only practice for so long and practice against your scout team. It's time for us to play a game for real.”

The Gators are coming off a 22-15 season that included a strong postseason run in which UF, despite playing all five tournament games on the road, reached the WNIT semifinals before losing to eventual champion Drexel on the Dragons' home court.

“No question for the returners to do what they did at the end of the postseason and to maturely handle not being selected for the NCAA tournament when we knew we deserved to be in that field and did not hang our heads, but took the show on the road and showed what we are capable of,” Butler said. “I think that made them really confident about who they are as a group and what they can do going forward.”

Florida returns three starters and six letterwinners from that squad, led by senior point guard and former P. K. Yonge standout Jaterra Bonds, UF's leading scorer last season (13.1 ppg).

“We have been waiting for this,” Bonds said. “This is my last year, and I want to leave here with a championship, whether it's SEC or NCAA. We have a lot of talent on this team, and I think we are going to surprise a lot of people.”

Senior forward Lily Svete returns after a breakout junior year, as does redshirt junior guard/forward Kayla Lewis, UF's top returning rebounder (5.5 rpg) and second-leading returning scorer (7.2 ppg).

Rounding out the returnees are guards Carlie Needles, a redshirt sophomore, and true sophomore January Miller, as well as sophomore forward Christin Mercer, all of whom were solid in their first seasons on the court.

The Gators also welcome a trio of talented newcomers in transfer guards Cassie Peoples (Texas) and Antionette Bannister (North Carolina) as well as heralded freshman forward Ronni Williams from Daytona Beach, the first McDonald's All-American to sign with UF out of high school.

“I'm very anxious to get out here on the court,” Williams said. “I've been working hard with the team and the coaches, and I'm just ready.”

Peoples, a 5-6 point guard, was a 2011 McDonald's All-American, while the 5-10 Bannister was the state's all-time leading scorer at private school powerhouse Jacksonville Potter's House Christian with 4,758 career points.

UF will again rely on tough defense, something that's been a staple for Butler's squads, but the guard-heavy Gators will look to shoot more three-pointers this season.

“I think the team really enjoys it, and it really plays to our strengths and the things that we do well,” Butler said. “Hopefully, it will be something we can consistently rely on in the half-court. We always want to run. We always want to push it in transition because that's the hardest thing to guard.”

Let the games begin.

“You can kind of feel the energy changing,” Butler said. “The players have gotten a little antsy. The countdown is real. It's right in front of us.”

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