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Monday, June 24, 2024

One day after a 17-point comeback on the road, reality set back in Monday for the UF women's basketball team.

Despite earning the confidence-boosting win and finishing well above preseason expectations, the Gators (17-12, 6-8 Southeastern Conference) will likely be left out of the NCAA Tournament field come Selection Monday on March 17.

After being projected to finish 10th and 11th by the media and coaches, respectively, UF wrapped up the No. 7 seed in the SEC Tournament with Sunday's win.

For weeks, the Gators flirted with an NCAA Tournament bid and were placed in and out of bracket projections week by week.

As of Monday, UF has an RPI of 44 and the No. 23 strength of schedule, according to CollegeRPI.com.

Still, a sub-.500 conference record looks like the final blow.

Coach Amanda Butler admitted Monday that her team "most likely" would be WNIT-bound but isn't willing to give up NCAA hope just yet.

"We're not going to start talking about that until we see what we do in the conference tournament," Butler said. "There's also an automatic bid to gain. Certainly, our biggest focus is South Carolina, and then it's a situation where we've got to approach it one game at a time. That's really all we're thinking about right now."

Many would consider UF a long shot at taking home the SEC Tournament crown because such a path would require four straight wins, all away from the O' Connell Center, including matchups with No. 3 Tennessee, and then likely No. 21 Vanderbilt and possibly No. 7 LSU after that.

But a potential second-round tilt against the Volunteers would give the Gators one final chance at a win that could give the final push to a NCAA bid.

CollegeRPI.com founder Jerry Palm released his weekly bracket projection Sunday morning before the Mississippi game and left out all mention of UF. In his Feb. 24 projection, he listed the Gators as one of his teams "close but not in tournament." Palm has six SEC teams making the field - the six teams seeded above the Gators.

ESPN.com analyst Charlie Creme posted his most recent bracket projection on Monday. UF moved from his "last four out" category on Feb. 25 to his "next four out" category, meaning he considers the Gators somewhere from the fifth- to eighth-best team not listed in his 64-team field. Creme has five SEC teams making the tournament, with Kentucky being the school that Palm has in and Creme does not.

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Butler noted there is "a lot on the line" this weekend and alluded to a possible NCAA bid or a higher seed in the WNIT, but she's most worried about how the Gators play and what they expect of themselves.

"I don't want them to think anything is supposed to happen except us being in the championship game," Butler said. "We've talked about championship expectations in April, and now it's time to deliver those thoughts in actions."

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