Although the Gators are welcoming a program-record seven freshmen to the youngest team in UF history, coach Amanda Butler has never been more confident.
Despite their youth, the Gators expect to get back to the NCAA Tournament. Butler thinks they have the necessary pieces.
“They have a tremendous opportunity, although they’re young, to really have that level of talent that could take us to another level,” Butler said.
Last season, Florida snapped a streak of two seasons without an NCAA Tournament berth, earning a No. 9 seed. UF lost to eventual national champion Baylor in the second round, but a majority of the contributors from the Gators’ veteran-laden team are gone.
Florida returns just 33.2 percent of the minutes played from a season ago and only 35.1 percent of its points.
The Gators will be counting on the group of newcomers to help offset the loss.
“They are going to play early and often,” Kayla Lewis said. “There is no doubt in my mind that there will be significant minutes played by underclassmen.”
Despite the influx of young players, Butler is optimistic. On the heels of last season’s success, she sees a more confident and capable team.
“There is certainly a cultural improvement in our program that is very, very significant,” she said. “I think it is present in championship programs.”
Helping Butler maintain confidence is the return of Jennifer George, last season’s team leader in points and rebounds.
As the only senior on the team, George said she has started embracing the role of vocal leader on and off the court. She is ready to push the program forward in her final season.
“An SEC championship (for Florida) has never been done on the women’s side, ever,” she said. “We want to do that this year.
Redshirt freshman Carlie Needles (third from left) poses for a photo with four other freshmen during University of Florida basketball media day on Oct. 10. Needles hit the game-winning three pointer with six seconds left against the N.C. State Wolfpack on Friday night at the South Point Thanksgiving Shootout in Las Vegas.