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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

The person who started the talk about Amanda Butler possibly earning conference Coach of the Year honors ended up beating her out for them.

LSU coach Van Chancellor was named the Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year, the league announced Tuesday. UF junior forward Marshae Dotson was named to the All-SEC First Team. Dotson was the only Gator recognized. All awards were voted on by the league's coaches.

Butler made a big turnaround in her first year with UF. Last season, the Gators finished with a dismal 9-22 conference record, resulting in Carolyn Peck's firing.

Only two teams made four-game improvements upon their conference record a year ago - Butler's Gators (6-8 from 2-12) and Chancellor's Tigers (14-0 from 10-4).

Chancellor sang Butler's praises after UF's 85-71 loss to LSU at home on Feb. 3. Despite the wide margin of victory, the Gators forced Chancellor to substitute back in some of his starters after they cut a 27-point lead to 15 in the second half.

"Give Florida credit for coming back," Chancellor said at the time. "Coach Butler's really got them playing hard, playing tough. … They had a lot of fight about them. They have a lot of scrap. I can remember when she played here, and she was gritty and tough, and this team has exactly her personality, and I think she's done a great job. [She's] going to be a strong candidate for coach of the year."

In the end, LSU's perfect conference record gave Chancellor the edge. His No. 7 Tigers (25-4) handed No. 3 Tennessee (27-2, 13-1 SEC) its only conference loss on Feb. 14 in a 78-62 decision in Knoxville that the Volunteers entered ranked No. 1.

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who has 974 career victories and seven NCAA Championships to her name, also noticed good things happening in Gainesville.

"Amanda has really gotten this group to play together," Summitt said on Feb. 27. "They are playing with a lot of intensity. For a new coach going in and being able to bring that out, that is important.

"I see a commitment to each other on the floor and how they share the basketball. She has three players averaging double figures and a couple more right there, so she has balance. That is a difference in what I've seen in the team this year."

When asked about being in the running for the award at her weekly press conference Monday morning, Butler was taken aback and deflected praise.

"I have not even considered that," Butler said Monday. "There's so many coaches in this league that have done more in my opinion and deserve that more than I do."

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She did, however, follow that up by admitting it was a compliment to even be considered for the award, citing Chancellor, Summitt and Vanderbilt's Melanie Balcomb as great coaches with the league.

"If that's what someone thinks, that's an honor for someone even to mention that and bring that question up knowing the coaches that are in this league," Butler said.

The Gators enter the SEC Tournament as the No. 7 seed and will face South Carolina in the first round at 3:30 p.m. Thursday.

The 5-foot-11 Dotson will be a big factor in how far the team progresses. The junior leads the Gators in scoring (14.1 points per game), rebounding (8.4) and has nine double-doubles this

season. Dotson eclipsed the 1,000-point plateau earlier this year, becoming the 20th Gator to do so.

She has slowly progressed her way up the SEC award teams.

Dotson made the SEC All-Freshman Team two years ago, and last season, she was named to the All-SEC Second Team despite UF's dismal record. Before this season began, the league coaches made her a preseason All-SEC Second Team selection along with junior guard Sha Brooks. Dotson's efforts throughout the season elevated her to the eight-player top team, while Brooks did not receive mention in the postseason awards.

Despite her short stature, her stats match up well with other taller post players. In conference games, Dotson ranks third in field-goal percentage, sixth in rebounding and eighth in scoring and free-throw percentage.

The Gators have placed a player on the first team 11 times but didn't have a representative last year. The last top-team member UF had was Dalila Eshe in 2006.

Dotson said Monday that she was happy Butler was being considered for SEC Coach of the Year at the very school where she once played.

"It brings a lot of credibility and respect," Dotson said.

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