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Thursday, May 23, 2024

When you live by the 3, sometimes you die by the 3.

This year's edition of the UF women's basketball team has made 177 3-pointers, most of any season in school history, eclipsing the 2004-05 squad's former record of 169.

But when shooters have difficulty finding their mark, such as on Monday, when the Gators went just 1 for 17 from 3-point range against Florida Gulf Coast, victories are a little more difficult to come by.

UF coach Amanda Butler said that UF (19-13) will need to shoot better than 5.9 percent from behind the arc if it wants to win at North Carolina State (19-12) in its third-round National Invitation Tournament matchup on Thursday night.

"I don't think that was the indication of the type of shooting team we are," Butler said. "It was just kind of one of those inexplicable things that occurs in basketball from time to time. We've definitely got to put the ball in the hole better than we did the other night."

That will not be easy against one of the country's stingiest defenses. The Wolfpack surrender only 56. 7 points per game and force 19.7 turnovers per game. Despite the woeful shooting night against Florida Gulf Coast, 5-foot-7 UF junior Kim Critton said it's critical her teammates keep their confidence.

"I'm going to try and get all the rebounds, so they can shoot again," Critton said. "If you tell them don't shoot, their confidence level is going to go down. You've got to motivate them and tell them to keep doing what they're doing."

It's a tough line for Butler to walk. She wants her players to be confident in their shooting but not to overlook other offensive options.

"We didn't want to put ourselves in the position where we were settling for 3s, and that was one of the parts of our offensive game (Monday) that we're a little disappointed in ourselves," Butler said. "Especially when they went to zone, we settled for shots outside the paint."

When North Carolina State has the ball, UF will work to contain 6-foot-1 senior Khadijah Whittington. Whittington ranks as one of only three players in Atlantic Coast Conference history to surpass 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 200 steals and 100 blocks in her career. The first team All-ACC selection, one of 31 candidates for the Naismith Player of the Year Trophy, leads the Wolfpack in scoring (17) and rebounding (11.5) as well as total steals and blocks.

"They have a tremendous, undersize post player in Khadijah Whittington, who's very, very similar to (UF forward Marshae Dotson)," Butler said. "Now, does that mean we're going to be able to contain and stop her? Well that's a whole 'nother thing. She is the type of talent where you've got to address things and think about double-teaming and think about defensive assignments because one-on-one she's capable of scoring on any defender in the country."

North Carolina State made it to Thursday's game after defeating South Carolina 72-69 at home Monday. Had the Gamecocks not lost a 14-point halftime lead, the Gators would have hosted them in a third-round game. Butler would have preferred that, even though it would've meant playing South Carolina for the fourth time this season. But since this is the way things have played out, Butler said the outcome will be determined more by how her team played then who it plays.

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"It doesn't really make any difference what the name is on the front of the jersey," Butler said. "What matters is whether we play Florida basketball or not."

It's also an opportunity for UF, who finished seventh in the Southeastern Conference, to see how it matches up against eighth-place ACC finisher North Carolina State. The Wolfpack have won 34 of their last 35 nonconference home games.

"We like to claim that we're the best women's basketball conference in the country," Butler said. "When you face an opponent in the ACC, certainly who is as talented and as capable as N.C. State, it's an opportunity to put yourself where your mouth is."

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