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Thursday, May 23, 2024

The long wait is finally over for the UF women's basketball team.

It has been seven months and 11 days since the Gators last walked off the court after a disappointing loss to N.C. State in the third round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament in March.

After enduring an offseason of workouts, meeting fans and accepting higher expectations, UF can step back on the court again tonight at 7 in an exhibition game against DT-3, an All-Star team composed of WNBA and former college players.

"(It seemed) like a year. It seemed long," junior point guard Lonnika Thompson said. "Practices every day, twice a day sometimes. Just being here, you get anxious just to play every day."

The Gators will get an opportunity to play some real game minutes and work in different combinations of lineups to see where their players stand.

They will welcome four newcomers to the O'Connell Center, all of whom coach Amanda Butler expects to be key contributors this season.

"A lot of the new names from this year, you'll see those in the write-ups postgame," Butler said. "That's what we hope for anyway, because that's going to be another indication of balance."

Those names include freshman guard Trumae Lucas and junior transfer Steffi Sorensen, who Butler said will find themselves in the mix very quickly.

Freshman center Azania Stewart has impressed her coaches in the early going as expected, but her play is not exactly what has stood out most to them.

"It is surprising that six weeks out of (Stewart) having a kidney removed that we don't really see that," Butler said. "If anyone walked in our gym and didn't know that little fact about her, they probably wouldn't realize it. That's amazing how quickly she's been able to come back and pick up on things. It's like she barely missed a beat."

Meanwhile, UF's returning players have been solid and consistent so far in practice, something that will be important to carry over into game situations.

Butler said Thompson is the team's most improved perimeter player, and the confidence she is exuding right now could go a long way to help the team.

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"It's evident and it's also infectious," Butler said. "If you've got a point guard that is confident, that's going to trickle down, and that's certainly what we want."

Seniors Sha Brooks and Marshae Dotson were named to the Preseason All-Southeastern Conference First Team on Wednesday, and they will be the cornerstones for the team's success this season.

Friday night's game against a team composed of former college players will be a sound test and a good indication of how the Gators might do early on in the season.

No matter whom they're playing, though, these players are just happy to finally get back on the court.

"Just to know that everything we've been doing at practice and working hard and sweating and bleeding in practice, making sure we're really doing the right thing every day, just to come out and win would be a great thing," Thompson said.

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