Notebook: UF women in SEC basketball chase
Published: Monday, January 27, 2014 at 3:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 27, 2014 at 3:59 p.m.
Thursday night's women's basketball game at 7 in the O'Connell Center between Florida and Alabama will mark the halfway point in the SEC's 16-game, regular-season schedule for both teams.
The Gators stand 14-6 overall and 4-3 in league play following their 87-69 home win Sunday over Auburn. That SEC mark is not only good enough for a tie for sixth place with No. 9 Kentucky, but has UF only 1 1/2 games back of league-leading, No. 10 South Carolina (18-2, 6-1) and No. 17 Texas A&M (16-5, 6-1), who are tied for the top spot in the nation's toughest conference.
In short, the Gators are in the thick of the SEC chase, and a finish in the top half of the league will go a long way in fulfilling their hopes of returning to the NCAA Tournament come the postseason.
“There is no question that it is really thick in the league right now,” coach Amanda Butler said. “I think it's a great indication of how good this league is from top to bottom, and I think that gets lost sometimes. People look at a game like Alabama beating Georgia (69-66 Sunday) and say, 'Wow, what an upset,' but the rest of us go 'Yeah, Alabama's good.”
The Tide is on a roll, coming off their first back-to-back SEC wins of the season over Kentucky and the Bulldogs.
The Gators, meanwhile, went 1-1 last week, falling at No. 11 Tennessee, 89-69, before rebounding with their win over the Tigers.
“It certainly is a process,” Butler said. “When you look at our league standings and start looking at the standings and what you have left and what's happened already, all that stuff, it can really get overwhelming. Our goal on Sunday was to go 1-0, and our goal Thursday will be to go 1-0. That's really about as far as we want our focus to get.”
The Gators were ranked No. 23 in the Baseball America preseason Top 25 poll released Monday. UF finished last season at 29-30 and unranked.
The Gators join seven other SEC programs in the poll: South Carolina, 7th; Mississippi State, 8th; LSU, 9th; Vanderbilt, 10th; Alabama, 21st; Texas A&M, 24th; Arkansas, 25th.
Virginia is ranked No. 1, with Florida State at No. 6.
SWIMMING & DIVING
The second-ranked UF men and eighth-ranked women close out their regular-season schedule Saturday when they visit Tennessee for their final SEC dual meet of the year.
Both teams were impressive in a Senior Day sweep of Auburn this past Saturday in their last home meet of the year before a packed house, with the Gator men (7-0, 4-0) posting a 180-117 win over the Tigers while the Florida women (5-2, 3-1) prevailed by a 173.5-124.5 margin.
Appropriately enough, UF's seniors led the way on both sides. Marcin Cieslak had his hand in four wins for the men (two individual titles, two relays), while Elizabeth Beisel claimed wins in three individual events for the women.
The Gators hope to carry that momentum into Knoxville on Saturday in their final competition before this year's SEC Championships in Athens, Ga., Feb. 18-22.
“It's their Senior Day, so they're going to have a lot of enthusiasm,” coach Gregg Troy said. “It's our last chance to tune up for the final two weeks of preparation leading up to the conference meet.”
The UF men are the defending SEC champions.
TRACK & FIELD
After turning in solid performances at their second indoor meet of the year, both the No. 2 UF men and No. 3 UF women will look for continued improvement when they compete at the Razorback Invitational in Fayetteville, Ark., this Friday and Saturday.
The Gators claimed seven event titles and set two meet records at the Rod McCravy Memorial in Lexington, Ky., this past weekend.
After just two meets, UF athletes hold or share the top SEC individual performances in the 60-meter hurdles (Eddie Lovett, 7.70) and 800 meters (Sean Obinwa, 1:48.20) on the men's side and the 400 meters (Ebony Eutsey, 52.76), 3,000 meters (Cory McGee, 9:18.26) and long jump (Robin Reynolds, 6.38 meters) on the women's.
“To this point, I've been very pleased, but definitely not satisfied, with both teams,” coach Mike Holloway said. “We've challenged our athletes to kind of match the passion and intensity of the competitors at these competitions, and they've done a wonderful job with that.”
The second-ranked Gators (2-0) host to UCF at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Varsity Courts before facing their first road test at No. 19 Baylor on Saturday.
UF opened the season with 4-0 home sweeps of Louisville and Harvard last Saturday and Sunday as part of the ITA Kickoff Weekend to earn a spot in the 16-team National Indoor Team Championships Feb. 7-10 in Charlottesville, Va.
“We're off to a pretty good start,” coach Roland Thornqvist said. “We had three freshmen (Kourtney Keegan, Belinda Woolcock and Stefani Stojic) putting the jersey on for the first time, and we had two players (senior Olivia Janowicz and sophomore Brianna Morgan) playing at the top of the lineup on the show courts for the first time. I thought we showed maybe a little bit of nerves here and there, but overall I was very pleased with the way we competed and the way we solved problems on the court. We were certainly challenged.”
Florida will open the season as the favorite to win its second straight SEC championship, according to the preseason coaches’ poll released Monday by the league office. Florida received 10 first-place votes from the SEC’s 13 head coaches, who were not allowed to vote for their own team.