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Friday, August 19, 2022

Sunday's win at South Carolina may turn out to be a turning point in the season, and it turns out the team got a hint of that from its coaching staff before the game.

Assistant coach Susie Gardner said Monday that the coaches spoke to the players specifically about the NCAA Tournament and how big a win against the Gamecocks would be on the heels of a blowout loss to Georgia on Thursday.

"Sometimes as a coaching staff you take a chance," said Gardner, who filled in for head coach Amanda Butler at Monday's press conference because Butler is out recruiting.

"Do you want to put that added pressure on a team? Can they handle success? We felt like we had nothing to lose by telling them, 'You all need to be talking about the NCAA Tournament.'"

Despite a lackluster 1-1 week with a bad loss and a win against a team it was supposed to defeat, someone else thinks the Gators might play in the Big Dance.

ESPN.com analyst Charlie Creme included UF (14-6, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) in his weekly bracket projection for the first time this season Monday. He slotted the Gators as a No. 10 seed in the Oklahoma City region.

With an RPI of 39 according to CollegeRPI.com, UF has just one win against a team with a sub-50 RPI - its season-opening 82-71 win at home against Xavier.

"If nothing else, the Gators have been consistent," Creme wrote. "But at some point they will need to beat someone they aren't supposed to."

UF will have that chance this week with two key home matchups as Vanderbilt (14-6, 3-2 SEC, 26 RPI) comes to town on Thursday and No. 8 LSU (16-3, 5-0 SEC, 11 RPI) visits on Sunday.

Gardner couldn't get a read on how the team took the talk initially because there wasn't a lot of reaction.

They didn't even nod, she said.

"I think behind the scenes when we're not in that locker room, I believe that it has come up in conversation," she said. "I heard that Depree Bowden is talking about it, and that's important. … We needed to just plant the seed and where they take it is up to them."

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Each win becomes crucial for a Gators team that still has road dates against Georgia and Tennessee ahead.

"We have to be realistic when you look at our SEC schedule," Gardner said. "We have to be honest with ourselves that there are certain teams out there that have the name Tennessee, LSU on their jerseys. South Carolina was a game that one, we needed to play well, and two, flat out, we needed to win."

LOSING THE BATTLE ON THE GLASS: UF has been outrebounded by double digits in the last two games after winning the rebounding battle in 14 of its first 18 games. Some of this may have to do with the Gators facing taller frontcourts. Georgia has 6-foot-3 All-American Tasha Humphrey and 6-foot-5 Angel Robinson, and South Carolina has 6-foot-6 Ilona Burgrova and 6-foot-4 Demetress Adams.

Contrast that with UF's tallest player, 6-foot-3 Aneika Henry, who averages 6.2 rebounds per game. Henry has plenty of help from her shorter teammates, though - Marshae Dotson averages 8.9 boards per game, and Sharielle Smith contributes 6.1.

Dotson ranks second in the SEC with 9.2 rebounds per game in conference play. LSU's Sylvia Fowles, the league's leading rebounder in conference games, comes to town Sunday.

UF did grab two key rebounds near the end of Sunday's game, one each by Dotson and Henry.

"It is something we need to address, but at the same time you can still win basketball games while being outrebounded if you get the right ones," Gardner said.

HENRY WORKING ON OFFENSE: Henry, a junior college transfer, continues to have a rough time scoring against the taller opponents in her first season of SEC play. She has averaged just 4.2 points per game in the five conference games and scored 1 point in last week's two games. Her best conference performance came against Alabama on Jan. 13 when she scored 14 points.

Gardner attributes the struggles to the difference in competition.

"She's still learning the level of play and physicality of play in the conference," Gardner said. "She's going to have to do other things such as play defense or get rebounds or block or alter some shots. Scoring may not be what Aneika brings to our team until the end of February."

ETC: After receiving two votes in the Associated Press poll last week, the Gators were left off all ballots this week … If the Gators had problems with Georgia's pressure defense, wait until this week. LSU and Vanderbilt rank one-two in the league in field goal percentage defense … Junior guard Sha Brooks is still looking for career 3-pointer No. 143, which will move her into sole possession of third place in the UF record books. She missed all four of her attempts Sunday.

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