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Butler, Florida return to site of first NCAA berth

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Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 1:20 am | Updated: 7:42 pm, Thu Mar 15, 2012.

Bowling Green, Ohio, is a city of firsts for Gators women’s basketball.

The site of ninth-seeded Florida’s first-round matchup against No. 8 seed Ohio State on Sunday will mark its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009.

The game also marks the first time eight Gators on the current active roster will play in The Big Dance, including seniors Deana Allen, Lanita Bartley and Jordan Jones.

Florida’s eight first-timers will always have a significant connection to Bowling Green, Ohio, just like coach Amanda Butler.

Butler was a junior guard on the first UF team to advance to The Big Dance in 1993. Those Gators went on the road to play Bowling Green State in Bowling Green.

“When things historically overlap like that it’s fun to talk about,” Butler said. “It’s a great place where girls and women’s basketball is important.”

The Gators defeated the Falcons 69-67 in their first appearance in the tournament before losing their second-round game to No. 2 seed Virginia 69-55 in Charlottesville, Va.

UF’s last trip to Bowling Green was a road game for the Gators and this season’s journey will not be much different.

The Buckeyes will travel just 123 miles from Columbus, Ohio, for Sunday’s game, a far cry from the 973 miles that separate Gainesville from Bowling Green.

However, Butler says that Florida’s experience on the road in the Southeastern Conference this season will be beneficial in an environment where “there won’t be too many friendlies around.”

“Our team will be really confident about what we’ve done so far, even if it were a loss because we know we’ve been tested,” Butler said.

The Gators are 6-9 away from home this season, including a 1-8 mark against NCAA Tournament teams in games not played at the O’Connell Center.

Sophomore guard Jaterra Bonds says that Florida is not satisfied with just getting to The Big Dance and added that overcoming woes away from home is key to making a run.

“You have to do more,” Bonds said. “If you want to make some noise and want people to talk about you, you have to win some games in the tournament.”

When Butler and the 1993 UF squad made it to The Big Dance, it started a streak of seven consecutive bids.

From 1992-93 to 2003-04, the Gators advanced to the NCAA Tournament 10 times.

However, Florida has slowed in recent years, earning just three berths since the 2004-05 campaign.

Considering UF’s track record as of late, Jones  said she is just happy to make it to the postseason. But, she echoed Bonds’ sentiments, emphasizing the need to take advantage of increased national exposure to help Florida grow as a program.

Butler and her teammates introduced the Gators to the national landscape in 1993. Nineteen years later, another inexperienced group comes to Bowling Green, hoping to make a similar impact.

“You want to go out on that note and people remembering you by getting the team back to the NCAA Tournament,” Jones said. “It’s something for [next season’s team] to build off for sure.”

Contact Joe Morgan at joemorgan@alligator.org.

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