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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

The Amanda Butler era started in the win column Friday night, and the former point guard has a point guard of her own to thank.

Sophomore point Brittaney Thomas made her first career start and scored a career-high 17 points in 27 minutes to lead the Gators (1-0) to an 82-71 victory against Xavier (0-1).

BShe made plays when she had the opportunity yet still maintained her composure,C UF coach Amanda Butler said of Thomas. BIt?s very hard to play fast and attack but yet still control things. She definitely did that. When the ball was in her hands tonight, we knew something good was going to happen.C

Thomas remained humble after her best game so far at UF.

BI felt like I played well, but everyone has flaws,C she said. "I just got to keep working hard and develop at the same time as a point guard and help my team.C

Thomas had plenty of help as three other Gators also made it into double figures - senior Depree Bowden (17 pts, 7 reb) and juniors Sha Brooks (16 pts, 4 stls) and Marshae Dotson (14 pts, 9 rebs).

BThat kind of balance is just hard to guard,C Butler said. BIt really causes challenges because you make the opposing team choose who they want to stop.C

Dotson had the toughest challenge of the bunch, going against Xavier?s pair of post players, 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Amber Harris and 6-foot-6 freshman center Ta?Shia Phillips.

BIt felt like the (Southeastern Conference),C Dotson said. BIt?s a battle night in, night out. Pretty physical.C

The Gators utilized many different defenses to try and make up for their lack of height, including a both man-to-man and 1-3-1 zone presses, as well as halfcourt man and zone formations.

Phillips was held to 6 points. Harris still lit up the Gators for 21 points, but 12 of them came from behind the three-point line. UF actually outscored the Musketeers 26-21 in the paint.

BWe just tried to keep them off balance,C Butler said. BOne of the things we?re always going to try and do defensively is take teams and individuals out of their comfort zones.C

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The teams matched up evenly in the first half, although the play wasn?t pretty. UF shot just 35.3 percent in the opening half, but held Xavier to 29 percent to keep it close. The teams combined for 29 turnovers. The Gators missed all seven of their 3-point attempts, yet only trailed 32-31 at halftime.

BWe knew that if the game was ugly, as the first half was, that it was going to be in our favor,C Butler said. B(Xavier) is a team that if you let them play pretty, they are going to beat you most of the time.C

The game remained close in the opening minutes of the second half, but after the Gators took a 40-39 lead on a Thomas jumper with 16:40 left, they would not trail again.

UF went on a 14-3 run, capped by a Brooks steal and layup to open the lead to 58-45 with 9:41 left

While the lead would get as large as 19, Xavier managed to get within 8 in the final 2 minutes.

Thomas answered the call once again, swishing a 3-pointer on a pass out from the low block by junior Aneika Henry.

Butler knows this team has a lot to prove this season after last year?s dismal 9-22 record. She hopes Friday was the first step in the path to changing people?s minds.

BWe?re playing with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder,C Butler said. BWe realize there?s a lot of people who don?t respect us and don?t think we?re as good as we are. It?s our responsibility to change that perception.C

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