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Sunday, April 11, 2021

It’s almost time.

After an unsettling end to last season, the Gators women’s basketball team spent the summer in flux.

A new assistant coach and six new players have been hard at work trying to improve a team that finished near the bottom of the Southeastern Conference with a 15-17 record and failed to make the NCAA Tournament.

“Certainly we’re very aware of the countdown. It’s closing in on us quickly,” said coach Amanda Butler of the limited amount of practice time remaining before the regular season begins Nov. 13.

The team held a scrimmage in Sunday’s practice, and Butler pointed out strong individual performances from some of her young players.

Freshman forward Deaundra Young, who has been battling range-of-motion issues due to offseason surgery, led the team in rebounds. Fellow freshman Kayla Lewis was also acknowledged for her play.

“[I] feel really good about the fact that we’re getting better every day,” Butler said.

“And with our youth, that’s what we’re striving to do.”

A position of interest throughout offseason workouts has been the point guard slot. Junior Jordan Jones, whose skills are better utilized in a shooter’s role, is the only Gators guard returning from last season.

Enter junior transfer Lanita Bartley and freshman Jaterra Bonds. They represent two of the Gators’ five new guards and have brought life to the position and the team.

“I’ll tell you, those two jokers are just battling it out every day,” Butler said. “It seems to go back and forth, possession by possession. It’s exciting to have that type of competition and depth, true depth, quality depth, at the position.”

The presence of Bartley and Bonds will allow Jones to settle in at shooting guard, although Butler said the two newcomers could see the floor at the same time as well.

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It’s part of the coaching staff’s commitment to quality minutes, disregarding the perceived importance of starting status.

“We’re really deemphasizing starting and really trying to focus more on who’s going to be on the floor longer, who can we count on in certain game situations,” Butler said.

“As a player, I think I’d much rather be the kid that finished, that was in those situations at the end.”

Florida will hold another scrimmage at the end of the week in preparation for the season opener against UCF in the first round of the Preseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament.

But Butler knows she can’t truly evaluate the team’s progress and expectations until the real action gets underway.

“Ultimately, playing games is the measuring stick,” Butler said. “Starting with Central Florida, who is more of a veteran team, it’s going to be great for us right out of the gate.”

Butler singled out her younger players, saying that the quick turnarounds and limited practice time in between games in a tournament format will bring valuable experience to a group desperately seeking it.

“We’ve got a group of kids that’s very focused on trying to win a championship,” Butler said. “We’re not going to use any excuses for the mistakes that we make, although they’re certainly going to happen.”

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