In a contentious Southeastern Conference, every game is a battle for a youthful Florida squad. That’s when the Gators turn to their floor general, Jaterra Bonds.
The junior point guard has become Florida’s leader. Coping with numerous injuries and an inexperienced roster, but the Gators rely on Bonds to bring a high level of intensity into each game.
“It’s really tough to question her fire as a teammate or as a coach because she goes so hard all the time,” coach Amanda Butler said. “It’s not just what you see on the game floor. That’s on the practice floor every single day.”
Bonds barks out orders during the game like a general on the battlefield. She positions her troops accordingly.
In a 77-72 victory against LSU on Sunday, Bonds was especially vocal.
With 4:22 remaining in the first half and UF on defense, Christin Mercer tumbled into the scorers’ table attempting to corral a deflected pass. When the Tigers retrieved the loose ball, Bonds wasted no time in reconfiguring the defense.
“Come on,” Bonds implored Mercer. “Get up.”
Mercer scrambled to rejoin her general in battle. The Gators forced a shot clock violation just nine seconds later.
Butler, who stresses the importance of defense, roared with approval.
“I think our younger players, in particular, are very responsive and want to be right there with [Bonds], side by side, shoulder to shoulder, in the thick of the battle,” Butler said.
If the floor is Bonds’ battlefield, the paint is her trenches.
Unlike most players, she gravitates toward contact. Her dogged approach makes the enemy second guess its willingness to fight back, something her coach appreciates.
“[Bonds] got thrown around a little bit (Sunday),” Butler said. “There were a few good collisions that happened, and that is just going to happen when you’ve got that level of athleticism and speed all colliding in the paint.”
The result was a few bumps and bruises but a solid night on both ends of the floor for Bonds. She scored 19 points in the win just three days after dropping 21 points in a 76-69 loss at Kentucky.
“We go against adversity every day, so that wasn’t anything new for us,” Bonds said. “We were able to fight back and bounce back on our court.”
Defeating LSU was critical for Florida as it battles to contend in perhaps the toughest conference in the country. Last season, the Gators finished eighth in a league that has since added Missouri and 2010-11 national champion Texas A&M.
Five SEC teams cracked the latest AP Poll. To navigate through a tough conference slate, the Gators will continue to rely on Bonds.
“If you don’t have [mental toughness], you might win a few games or you might play a few good halves,” Butler said. “But if you are going to win a lot of games, if you are going to do things that are special … you’ve got to be mentally tough.”
Contact Phillip Heilman at email@example.com.
Point guard Jaterra Bonds (10) runs the floor during Florida's 77-72 win against LSU on Jan. 6 in the O'Connell Center.