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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Sometimes even the best mottos need some time off.

Right now, the UF women's basketball team isn't giving the standard line of "one game at a time."

It wants everybody to know that it thinks it can win the National Invitation Tournament.

While the Gators haven't played a single game and say they aren't overlooking anyone, they have begun to embrace the expectations of championships Coach Amanda Butler has strived to instill.

"This year, we didn't get exactly where we wanted, but we're going to try and show that we're capable of winning something," junior guard Sha Brooks said.

Senior guard Depree Bowden added: "I think we can win the whole thing. No doubt."

The first step in such a journey will come when UF hosts surprise first-round winner Florida Gulf Coast on Monday at 7 p.m. The Eagles, from the Atlantic Sun Conference, defeated South Florida 67-65 at home Friday.

UF routed Florida Gulf Coast 78-52 at home on Dec. 4, but the Gators now face a squad high on confidence after winning 17 of its last 18.

"Honestly, I can't even remember the game that we played them," sophomore guard Jennifer Mossor said. "From what I hear, they're a completely different team. I mean, we're a completely different team. So really, us beating them before really doesn't matter. It's a brand new game."

Aneika Henry dominated the paint in that earlier matchup, scoring 17 points on 8-of-8 shooting from the floor. While the 6-foot-3 junior hasn't replicated those stats, Butler hopes she will again be a big factor against the height-challenged Eagles. Florida Gulf Coast's starting lineup doesn't include a player taller than 5 feet 11 inches.

"The obvious advantage that we have over Florida Gulf Coast is size, and we'll try to take advantage of that," Butler said. "We're not very accustomed to this. We're used to being the underdogs, certainly size-wise."

Because of its first-round bye, UF will be shaking off some rust, as it will be playing its first game in 17 days and looking to rebound from a 92-61 defeat to No. 3 Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinals.

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The Gators have stressed defense in practice during the layoff, with a special emphasis on picking up assignments in transition after allowing the Volunteers 30 fast-break points.

Monday will also be a chance for redemption, as UF did not end its home campaign well, losing a key game to South Carolina on Senior Day. That game may have kept the Gators out of the NCAA Tournament.

While there's nothing the team can do about that, Bowden gets a chance for a better result in what could be - really, this time - her last game in the O'Connell Center.

"I know Depree's gotta be really excited to come back here and show that the last time we played here, that wasn't us," Mossor said. "She's got her last chance to show everybody what she can do."

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