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Monday, March 04, 2024

PHILADELPHIA - Amanda Butler calls her Nema.

Viola Draper is her formal name and she is the woman Butler credits from much of her upbringing.

Draper, in her late 90s, had been in the hospital the past few days, so last week Butler had changed her recruiting schedule to go visit her after UF's game at Temple Saturday afternoon.

But when Butler?s father called her Friday afternoon and told her that she needed to come home sooner, she did just that for the woman she cares so much about.

She took a 10 p.m. flight from Philadelphia to Nashville on her way to her hometown of Mt. Juliet, Tenn., to spend Draper?s last days with her.

Her day job as coach for the UF women?s basketball team would be put on hold.

The team was notified late Friday night by the assistant coaches, just before a team meal.

Assistant coach Susie Gardner filled in for Butler in Philadelphia Saturday and will assume her responsibilities until she returns.

No timetable has been set, but it?s doubtful she will return before at least Wednesday.

For Gardner, the chance to bring home a win Saturday, the team?s first in four games on the road, in Butler?s absence, meant a lot to her.

And she did, as the Gators defeated Temple 68-54.

BOne, I know how much she loves Nema and two how much she loves coaching this team,C Gardner said. BIn a way I didn?t want to let her down.C

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Senior guard and co-captain Depree Bowden made a point of addressing the team herself.

BI just told them that we?ve got to play hard for her and get this win,C Bowden said.

Gardner credits the work of fellow coaches for the team?s success.

Assistant coach Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick was responsible for scouting the Owls and stayed up all night with Gardner to prepare her for Saturday?s game.

BShe prepared me exceptionally well last night and then again this morning just so I could have it in my mind,C Gardner said. B(Assistant coach) David (Lowery) and those guys on the bench were feeding me (during the game).C

This wasn?t just another game, another chance to vanquish past road disappointments playing away from home.

It was a chance for the team to give back to the coach who works so hard for them.

BI think that in their hearts and in their heads, we wanted to win this game for Amanda,C Gardner said.

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