When seniors Haley Lorenzen and Paulina Hersler hear the buzzer sound for the final time as members of Florida’s women’s basketball team, they will leave a gaping hole in UF’s starting frontcourt.

As the only two established “bigs” on the team, it’s hard to say how the team will fare inside next season, but Lorenzen and Hersler think their younger teammates will be in good hands.


“They’ve grown so much,” Lorenzen said. “They came in not really knowing what to expect and they’ve really helped us grow, not only as a team and a culture, but also as teammates and contributing on the court.”

But the 2017-18 season isn’t over just yet for Florida (11-16, 3-11 SEC). Lorenzen, Hersler and the rest of the Gators squad will host to fellow post player Mercedes Russell and the No. 15 Tennessee Volunteers (21-6, 9-6 SEC) on Thursday night at the O’Connell Center.

The “they” Lorenzen referred to are freshman forwards Mikayla Hayes and Jalaysha Thomas. Both Hayes and Thomas have seen limited action on the court this season, and it’s unknown whether they will play a big role going into the final two regular season games.

But what is certain is they have the confidence of their mentors. When asked if she thinks the two freshmen can make an impact next year, Lorenzen didn’t hesitate on her answer.

“Thomas has already proven her work ethic in the weight room,” she said. “And Mikayla Hayes continues to (want) to get better every single day.

“I think for them, the most important thing is to not lose sight of what their goal is.”

But it may be tough for the young players to replace the production and leadership Lorenzen and Hersler bring to the team. In Newbauer’s offense, both forwards have seen their best seasons to date.

Lorenzen is nearly averaging a double-double per game, with just a tick under 13 points per game and an even nine boards every contest. And Hersler, who transferred to UF for her final year of eligibility, has started every game she has played, averaging 12 points per game and grabbing nearly seven rebounds per game.

The two have also improved their ability to stretch the floor under Newbauer. While Hersler and Lorenzen are only shooting 34.3 and 30 percent from three-point range, respectively, the threat of shooting from outside opens lanes for the other Gators on the floor.

“I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given here,” Hersler said. “I’ve been put in a position to play a lot of minutes and it helped my game and I think I’ve helped the team a little bit as well.”

When Russell — a 6-foot-6 center shooting 60.7 percent from the floor, the second best mark in the SEC — and the Volunteers come to town, Lorenzen isn’t worried about what Tennessee’s go-to star can do, but more of what Florida can do.

“Even though (Russell) is a tremendous player, we just try to focus on what we can do and what we’re gonna do in order to beat Tennessee,” she said.

Follow Justin Ahlum on Twitter @justinn_case1 and contact him at jahlum@alligator.org.