UF WOMEN'S BASKETBALL
Gators confident ahead of SEC Tournament opener vs. Bulldogs
Published: Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 9:47 p.m.
The Florida women's basketball team headed to the SEC Tournament in Duluth, Ga., a confident, excited — and hungry — group of Gators.
At The Arena at Gwinnett Center
Mississippi State 73, Missouri 70
Mississippi 63, Arkansas 62
Vanderbilt vs. Georgia, noon
Florida (18-11) vs. Mississippi State, 2:30 p.m., Sun Sports/AM-850
“I think excitement is kind of an understatement,” coach Amanda Butler said. “The tournament is going to be so awesome regardless of what position you're going in at, but I think for us to be in a really strong position like fifth and have an opportunity that first night to watch and kind of build our freshness, build our sharpness and hopefully let that hunger just continue to cultivate in us is a great advantage.”
UF (18-11, 8-8) earned the No. 5 seed for this year's event, Florida's highest since the 2008-09 season.
For a team that was picked in the preseason to finish 10th in the SEC, it isn't hard to understand the Gators' mojo at this point.
“I'm very excited,” senior and first-team All-SEC guard Jaterra Bonds said. “We were predicted to finish 10th, and we finished in fifth place. We were determined not to be the team that everybody else expected us to be, which was near the bottom of the league, so I'm very proud of that.
“We've just got to go in there now and handle our business.”
Florida begins play Thursday at 2:30 p.m. against No. 13 seed Mississippi State (18-12, 5-11), a 73-70 winner over No. 12 seed Missouri (17-12, 6-10) in Wednesday's opening-round game.
UF received a first-round bye due to its seeding, a first for any of the current players.
“It feels great,” Bonds said. “It will give our bodies an extra day of rest. This is the first time we've ever had a bye, so we're going to take advantage of it, get some rest and work on our stuff.”
Redshirt junior Kayla Lewis feels the Gators can make a deep run.
“I think we really are happy with where we are and how we've been playing lately,” she said. “It's just really what this tournament has to offer that makes it so exciting.”
Said Butler: “You can hear the energy in the gym at practice. These kids are excited to play again. They're excited about the postseason.”
While UF's top-five finish and .500 mark in the nation's best conference should bode well for sending the Gators back to the NCAA Tournament after missing out last year, Bonds knows more victories can only help the cause.
Four of them, in fact, would net Florida an automatic bid and eliminate any of the guesswork.
“It won't hurt to get some more quality wins at the SEC Tournament,” Bonds said. “One of the things I wanted before I ever started the season was to get my team back to the Big Dance, and that's still my plan.”