According to coach Amanda Butler, the Florida women’s basketball team doesn’t suffer from a lack of knowing, but rather a failure to implement its practiced gameplan efficiently.
After appearing to defensively ‘turn the corner’ per se, the Gators suffered a setback last week, dropping two away games to opponents Savannah State — a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opponent which gave the Gators a fit — and Florida State, which has received votes in both the Associated Press and Coaches poll.
The Gators turned the ball over a combined 55 times in the losses, an almost sure-fire way to lose a basketball game.
More possessions for the other team means more shots, more chances to score. And while cracks in the team’s makeup are glaring at times, Butler has remained confident that the issues are correctable.
"We just have to continue to find ways to improve," Butler said. "I think our weaknesses are pretty obvious."
The team has compensated in part for the turnovers by winning the rebounding battle, and not allowing its opponent to get second-chance points on put backs.
As demonstrated against Florida State, if the full-court press isn’t working for the Gators, the team feels just as comfortable stepping back into a zone defense and stopping its opponent in transition.
With the Seminoles coming out and shocking the Gators from the beginning, opening the game on a 16-2 run, Florida switched up its defense and sat back in a two-three zone defense. While unable to eventually secure the victory, the zone defense helped the Gators get turnovers and stops, getting to within seven before the game spiraled out of hand midway through the second half.
"We want to have challenges in these pre-conference games that put us in situations where we have to play differently to win," Butler said.
"Our defensive success has never hinged on being able to press people, it’s just something we want to have as an option if it works, and it wasn’t something we could do successfully against (Savannah State and Florida State). It gave us a chance to play more zone, which we did reasonably well. We just put a lot of pressure on our defense to play so many reps because of the turnovers."
With the moderate success the Gators had in the zone defense – proving the team can diversify its defensive schemes if need be – the next area of improvement lies with the slow starts the team has had in the early going.
It’s hard to win a game if you consistently battle to come back from a deficit, and Florida’s early season has proved that.
The Gators have consistently found themselves down several minutes into the game to seemingly inferior opponents before coming back and winning, evidenced in home victories over Jacksonville and Charleston Southern.
With a tough matchup against Wisconsin on Wednesday night, Butler is still considering the best combination of players who will open the game with a sense of urgency.
If the team can’t correct the pace issues in the early going, the eighth-year coach has no choice but to continue to tinker with the starting lineup that has already seen eight of 11 players start a game or more.
"It’s still a little bit of a mystery," Butler said, regarding the slow starts. "We will probably look at some different assignments going into Wednesday’s game.
"We’ve just gotta figure out who are our best five to start the game, and that appears to be something we are still searching for."
Follow Graham Hall on Twitter @Graham311
Cassie Peoples goes for a layup during Florida's season-opening win against Jacksonville.