Wednesday November 7, 2012 Women's Basketball Notebook: Butler seeks intensity in Friday's opener
Updated: 5:42pm, November 7
Updated: 5:42pm, November 7
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- About five hours before the Florida men open the 2012-13 season Friday night on the not-so-high seas near Jacksonville, the UF women will be on the familiar dry land of the O’Connell Center tipping off against Fairfield.
For Coach Amanda Butler (pictured right), the theme of her sixth season heading her alma mater will ring similar to her past ones, a message her players took to heart last year to reach the NCAA Tournament for the second time on her watch.
“We need to execute what we’ve been doing in practice,” junior forward Lily Svete (below) said of the goals for Game 1. “Our plays. Playing good in the defensive concepts we’e been working on since the beginning of practice. And maintaining our intensity as well.”
If the Gators do those things for 40 good minutes -- on both ends -- Butler will know the season has gotten off on the right high top.
“I just want to see us go hard. That’s always first and foremost for us; that we play consecutive hard 30-second possessions, whether offensively and defensively, and really see evidence of the work they’ve been putting in,” said Butler, who is 98-67 in her five previous seasons at UF. “There can’t be lulls. I have to see consistent performance from beginning to end.”
Effort was a hallmark of last year’s team that went 20-13 and defeated Ohio State in first-round NCAA action before falling to eventually national championship Baylor.
That team, however, was gutted by the graduation of three senior starters and the challenge for Butler and her staff -- along with the four returning letterwinners -- this preseason has been to immerse a group of seven freshmen into the Florida way.
The team has played two scrimmages, including one against Clemson, but for a roster armed with so much youth there’s an element of unknown combined with the built-in excitement.
“We’ve worked super hard and there comes a point in your preseason when the only thing left to do is play a game against someone besides the scout team,” Butler said. “We’re at that point. We need to be tested by folks who have prepared to play against us, specifically. I think we’re all really excited.”
DIMAITE LOST TO KNEE INJURY - AGAIN
The aforementioned seven freshmen heartbreakingly became six freshmen when 6-foot-4 center Viktorija Dimaite tore the anterior cruciate in her left knee during practice Saturday and will be lost for the season.
What’s even more crushing about the news is that Dimaite missed all of last season with a dislocated ankle. Seeing her work so hard to get back and play herself into the low-post rotation was devastating for both her and her teammates.
“It’s just really hard and I think evidence that we can have great plans as players and coaches, but it’s not our timing that matters,” Butler said. “Vikta is a tough kid. A woman of faith. She understands some things happen and you’re not able to explain them. It’s OK to cry and be sad about it -- and have cried and been sad the last few days - but then you have to choose to recover and rehab and comeback better than ever. I know that’s what we’ll see her do.”
The Gators have rallied around Dimaite during her recent setback, but feel her disappointment, especially given how hard she had trained and how well she was playing in the preseason.
“You definitely appreciate playing so much more when basketball is taken away from you,” said Svete, who went through ACL hell as a freshman. “For me, I played basketball all year long since I was 10. To have it be gone all of a sudden was really depressing. For Vikta? She already sat out last year. Now this year? I can’t imagine how she’s feeling.”
FRESHEST FRESHMEN FACE
When Butler rolls her starting lineup out against the Stags, 5-11 freshman forward Sydney Moss figures to be there.
The daughter of NFL standout Randy Moss was crowned Kentucky Miss Basketball and state Gatorade Player of the Year last spring.
“I’m a little nervous, but excited too. I’m just going to do what Coach tells me to do, and just follow what she says,” said Moss, who at Union High scored 2,997 points (19.6 per game) and grabbed 1,602 rebounds (10.5) during her career. “Hopefully, I can just kind of provide what the team teams from me. Play a role, I guess.”
Moss will be the first freshman to start for the Gators in a season opener since current redshirt sophomore Kayla Lewis in 2010.
Fans with Gator Growl tickets get free admission to the game. ... Fairfield plays in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. The Stags went 24-9 last season, including 15-3 in the MAAC and were invited to the women’s NIT. ... The Gators only other meeting against Fairfield came in 1991 at the Cavalier Classic in Charlottesville, Va. Florida won 91-70. ... Point guard Jeterra Bonds is back after starting 33 games last season. ... C Vicky McIntyre, a 6-7 junior transfer from Oklahoma State, will be the tallest player in UF women’s basketball history. She scored 483 points and grabbed 309 rebounds in two seasons with the Cowboys. ... Senior Jennifer George was voted to the first-team preseason All-Southeastern Conference squad after averaging 12.8 points and 8.8 rebounds last season. ... Another UF freshman making a long-awaited debut will be backup point guard Carlie Needles, who red-shirted last season after suffering an ACL injury. Needles’ 1,809 points rank ninth all-time in Colorado state history and her 476 free throws rank second. Also keep an eye on Chandler Cooper, a 5-11 freshman from Clarksville, Tenn., and armed with a really nice shooting eye from outside.