When a coach has to bring a team’s competitiveness down a notch for fear of players hurting each other, that team is probably doing something right.
And in the lead-up to Sunday’s win against No. 12 Kentucky, that’s exactly what women’s basketball coach Amanda Butler and her staff had to do.
"At practice on Saturday… they were going at it so hard that we really had to kinda pull back the reins and go ‘guys, this is awesome effort, but let’s not kill each other before the game tomorrow,’" Butler said.
All season, Florida’s aggression and competitiveness have shown through not just in practice, but in games.
In Sunday’s bout with UK, Florida demonstrated those qualities by forcing three jump balls in the first three minutes. It set the tone for the rest of the game, just as it has all season long.
Aside from forcing three jump balls, UF’s combative play is showing up on the stat sheet, as well.
On defense, the Gators lead the Southeastern Conference with 13.2 steals per game and are third in blocks with 4.9, in large part due to two junior college transfers.
Tyshara Fleming, nicknamed "Ty Swatter," is the tallest player on the team at 6-foot-4 and has earned her nickname. Despite averaging only 13.6 minutes per game, she’s third in the SEC with 38 blocks on the year.
Along with Fleming, junior Simone Westbrook transferred from Northwest Florida State College and has earned the nickname "ninja hands" because of her quickness. She is second in the SEC in steals with 55 despite playing only 20.1 minutes per game. In comparison, the next player on the SEC’s steals leaderboard who has played less than Westbrook is her own teammate Dyandria Anderson, who checks in at No. 11.
On offense, the Gators have also been aggressive.
At times, they’ve been too aggressive.
Going into the Kentucky game, UF was taking poor shots in transition. The Gators also panicked when players couldn’t get to the rim by throwing up ill-advised, line-drive layups that, on at least one occasion, hit the side of the backboard.
Against Kentucky, though, Florida’s offense was clicking.
Freshman Eleanna Christinaki featured some of her signature no-look passes to go with solid ball movement. Four Gators scored in double figures and the team scored 85 points, which tied their largest scoring output in SEC play this season.
Butler credited her team’s balance for their improved offensive play.
"Our success is not determined by one person playing well — we have two or three people playing well," she said. "We have different people that continue to step up for us and make plays in different ways… we’ve got, from top to bottom, people that are contributing in really critical ways."
Aggression on offense has also appeared on the stat sheet, as the Gators lead the SEC in scoring with 80.9 points per game. That’s more than five points ahead of No. 2 (both in scoring and in the AP Poll) South Carolina.
"We always try to take the floor and be the more confident and more aggressive team because we feel like we’re always in control of those two factors," Butler said. "And I think the way we started the game yesterday was a great demonstration of that."