The Gators were historically good on defense last season.
They held opponents to 60.8 points per game — second-fewest in program history. Only the 1983-84 team allowed fewer, giving up 59.1 points per contest.
In conference play, Florida performed even better, allowing 58.6 points per game, fifth in the Southeastern Conference.
“There were times in the year when our defense really carried us and put us in position to win big games,” coach Amanda Butler said.
Florida’s win against No. 18 Georgia on Feb. 19 exemplified her point. Late in the season, the Gators needed to beat a top-25 team to better their chances of making the NCAA Tournament.
Holding the Bulldogs to 38.6 percent shooting, the Gators won 61-57. Georgia’s 57 points were nearly 12 fewer than its season average.
Florida’s performance was representative of the entire season. Opponents shot just 38.3 percent from the field — the lowest percentage against a Gators team in more than a decade.
This season, defense will again be the team’s identity.
“When we start teaching and building this team, we start with defense,” Butler said. “Our defense allows us to play fast and attack and be athletic.”
With seven freshmen, Butler will be required to do more teaching than usual.
Additionally, the Gators lost two of their most dynamic defenders from a year ago.
Lanita Bartley and Deana Allen combined for 106 steals, but both were seniors. Jordan Jones also played a role in Florida’s press before graduating at the end of last season.
As a team, Florida forced nearly 18 turnovers per game.
Despite the losses, Butler expects her team to have the same mindset.
“No question that we lost a lot in those three, but from the things I have seen thus far, … I really like what I’ve seen,” she said.
Jaterra Bonds, one of two returning starters from last season’s team, said practices have been demanding in the early going.
Half-court defense has been stressed as newcomers learn terminology, spacing and assignments.
When the coaches harp on defense, Bonds said, everybody should be paying attention.
“If you don’t play defense for Butler, you will not be on the floor,” Bonds said. “If you want to play, you have to play defense. No question.”
Butler pushes her team to focus defensively, because the Gators can bring strong defense even when their shots aren’t falling.
“We can count on our defense Nov. 9; we can count on our defense March 9,” Butler said. “Regardless of the way our team evolves and regardless of who we are playing, that should be a mainstay for us.”