Florida’s women’s basketball team is surging, and people are taking notice.
On Monday, the team debuted in the Associated Press top-25 poll for the first time since 2009, coming in at No. 20.
And on Tuesday, the Gators became the first team to sweep the Southeastern Conference weekly awards since 2013.
Redshirt senior guard Carlie Needles took home the SEC Player of the Week award, fueled mainly by her impressive shooting performance against then-No. 12 Tennessee.
Needles scored 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting from behind the arc against the Volunteers, good for the second-most points on the team.
"Carlie is just tough," coach Amanda Butler said. "She’s a worker. She’s selfless and at the same time she’s got a lot of pride. She’s going to do whatever it takes for her team to win."
Freshman Eleanna Christinaki scored the most points for the Gators against Tennessee, though, finishing with 18.
She also garnered SEC Freshman Player of the Week laurels due in large part to her performance against the Volunteers.
Needles’ and Christinaki’s recognition for their performances seems fitting because, according to Butler, a combination of veteran leadership and inexperienced vigor has been the reason that Florida has garnered national attention.
"Certainly our veterans and our seniors… deserve a lot of credit for us being emotionally ready for whatever the next challenge is and carrying on the things that we do," she said.
"But the energy, the talent, the personality that we get from Simone (Westbrook) and Ty (Fleming) and Eleanna is really the perfect combination of what this team of returners needed."
That combination has led to the Gators playing a balanced brand of basketball. Whether on TV or radio, it has become custom for announcers to make note of Butler’s mass substitutions, since she routinely subs out all five players on the floor for five new ones.
Butler said the team’s ability to make substitutions and spread the ball around is a result of its depth, and that this year’s team is the deepest she’s ever coached.
"This team is different — they’re very different in that regard than really any other team I’ve been a part of," she said of her team’s balanced style of play.
"We just have a lot of quality depth and talent, and I think they play with a great deal of confidence."
Butler noted that the team’s confidence is as much individual as it is collective.
Specifically, she pointed to Needles as someone whose confidence — especially in her teammates — has shown through.
"She’s a kid who’s played, gosh, you know, last year, she was probably averaging 35, 36 minutes a game and she is so happy to play 15 as long as we win," Butler said.
"She’s very happy to sacrifice her minutes if her shots aren’t falling the same way that Simone’s are, or that January’s are, or whoever the next person is."
The Gators currently have three players averaging double figures, but no one averages even 11 points.
Christinaki is on the cusp of averaging double digits with 9.9, and five more players average at least six.
To put that into perspective, the No. 250 scorer in the country averages 14 points.
Florida’s leading scorer averages 10.4, more than three points less than that, yet the Gators are still 14-2.
That depth will only become more important as the grind of SEC play continues, starting with a game against the rival Georgia Bulldogs on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the O’Connell Center.
Follow Ethan Bauer on Twitter @ebaueri