Gators look to make long run in NCAA tournament

Florida guard Jaterra Bonds, left, drives past Mississippi State center Martha Alwal (10) as she goes up for a basket in the second round of the Southeastern Conference tournament on March 6 in Duluth, Ga. (AP Photo)

Published: Sunday, March 23, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, March 23, 2014 at 12:05 a.m.

Florida All-SEC senior guard and former P. K. Yonge School standout Jaterra Bonds crossed off one of the top items on her 2014 to-do list as soon as the Gators' NCAA tournament at-large bid became official.


Sunday's game

Who: Florida vs. Dayton
When: 3 p.m.
Radio: AM-1230

“I'm happy,” said Bonds. “That was one of the things on my checklist that I said I wanted to do for my team, and we did it.”

UF (19-12), a No. 11 seed, will take on No. 6 seed Dayton (23-7) Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, Pa., in a first-round game televised live on ESPN.

The winner advances to the second round Tuesday to play the winner of the game between No. 3 seed and host Penn State (22-7) and 14th-seeded Wichita State (26-6) that tips off at 12:30 p.m. on ESPN2 prior to the matchup between the Gators and Flyers.

“The excitement level is obviously very high, and I think it is for everybody that's still getting a chance to play this time of year and in particular this tournament,” coach Amanda Butler said. “We're no exception. We've had a couple of great days of preparation leading up to the announcement, and then were able to start practicing with even a clearer vision. That really brings another level of anticipation of what's next.”

The two teams are similar in many regards. Both like to play up-tempo, with the Flyers averaging 82 points a game this season while UF averages 75.1.

They also sport great balance. Five Flyers average double-figures in scoring, led by junior guard Andrea Hoover's team-high 17.2 points, while three UF starters have double-digit averages, led by Bonds' team-high 15.6-point mark.

The main difference is in height, with Dayton, which is in its fifth straight NCAA tournament, featuring 6-foot-4 junior forward Ally Malott and 6-foot-3 senior center Cassie Sant in the starting lineup while the Gators' top post players are 6-foot redshirt junior Kayla Lewis and 6-1 freshman Ronnie Williams.

Considering UF has succeeded despite being outsized in just about every game this year, the scenario is nothing new.

“We've been very resilient,” Bonds said. “I don't think there's anything now that we haven't seen, faced or had to deal with. This is a tough team, and collectively we're real tight.”

Bonds was quick to refer to the Gators' last venture to the Big Dance in her sophomore season (2012), when UF, a No. 9 seed, upset No. 8 seed and 16th-ranked Ohio State, 70-65, in a first-round game.

“It's who is going to lay it on the line and put everything in that they have,” she said. “Last time was my first time being there, so I was like a little kid in the candy shop. I was just so excited, and it's a fun environment to play in.”

Fellow senior Lily Svete is equally excited.

“It was always our goal from the beginning of the season to get to the NCAA tournament,” Svete said. “We expected it, but we're really excited about it at the same time.”

Butler, the first coach in program history to take Florida to the postseason in each of her first seven seasons (three NCAAs, four NWITs), is confident her team is ready.

“It's just a matter right now of making the right things important,” she said. “It's not really different from the process we've been following, especially since the SEC season began. We've just got to keep doing the right things and trusting that process, being loyal to one another and staying committed to the investments that we're making every single day.”

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