Softball coach Tim Walton among Gators enjoying success of Florida women's basketball team
Few storylines this year have been as remarkable as the resurgence of the Florida women’s basketball program.
And closely watching it unfold has been UF softball coach Tim Walton, who arrived in Gainesville in 2006.
“I came to Florida and women’s basketball and softball were the two sports that had the lowest number of flags hung up in the rafters,” Walton said.
Since then, Walton and the Gator softball team have earned several banners with eight SEC regular-season titles and a pair of national championships. Yet that hasn’t been the case for the women's basketball team, still searching for its first conference title. The Gators have not advanced past the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament.
Next up for the Gators:Florida women's basketball to play UCF in NCAA Tournament
But as seen with Florida softball, all it takes it the right coach to come in and right the ship. Walton said he thinks the Gators might have found that in Kelly Rae Finley, who recently inked a five-year contract after serving as interim head coach for much of this season.
“She’s got the energy..." Walton said of Finley. “And (she's) the person that’s obviously pumped a whole other level of confidence into our women’s basketball program.”
Walton is no stranger to basketball. His wife, Samantha, played college basketball at Oral Roberts. And the couple’s youngest son, Palmer, plays basketball locally at Buchholz High.
Walton knows good basketball when he sees it. And this season, he’s seen it.
“It’s really fun to watch the way they played this year. They score, they play defense, turnovers were down… it was just really, really fun,” Walton said. “I’m proud of the brand of basketball that they’re playing. And just the energy that they’re pumping into another group of Gators sports fans.”
This season’s rise of Florida’s women’s basketball team — including jumping back into the top 25 rankings — comes after years of struggling to reach a winning record, only to be followed by last year’s off-season when former players reported emotional and verbal abuse from former head coach Cam Newbauer.
Walton said that there’s a mutual respect for all the head coaches on UF’s campus because each of them knows how hard the job is at a place like Florida.
And Finley has already been on the receiving end of the respect.
“It’s been awesome. It’s the kind of people that you want to spend your days with,” Finley said. “They’re uplifting, encouraging, supportive, loving and challenging… It’s been a tremendous opportunity to be a part of that group of highly accomplished coaches and people, and I think that’s what makes this place so special.”
Finley and the Gators are playing this weekend in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament for the first time since 2016.
Florida, a 10 seed in the Bridgeport region, will battle the UCF Knights, who enter the tournament as a seven seed, on Saturday in Storrs, Conn.
And you can bet Walton will be watching.
“They’re fighting every year to try to get to .500,” Walton said. “And now this year, they’re not fighting for .500, they’re fighting (to) get a NCAA ‘W’ again. So that’s the part that I’m proud of.”
Saturday's NCAA Tournament game
Who: No. 10 seed Florida Gators (21-10) vs. No. 7 seed UCF Knights (25-3)
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Storrs, Conn.
TV/radio: ESPNEWS, AM-850, 98.1-FM