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Thursday, October 21, 2021
<p>Amanda Butler calls out a play during Florida's 64-56 loss to No. 6 Tennessee on Feb. 8 in the O'Connell Center.</p>

Amanda Butler calls out a play during Florida's 64-56 loss to No. 6 Tennessee on Feb. 8 in the O'Connell Center.

It’s only fitting that the Gators women’s basketball team’s season ended in a 71-49 blowout loss to Auburn in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Wednesday.

That’s the way Florida’s season went and it’s what the players unfortunately had to get used to.

The season is over for the Gators — there will be no NCAA tournament, not even the WNIT.

And if the Gators get invited to the Women’s College Basketball Invitational today, I doubt they’ll go.

Because there is no more room for disappointment this season – Florida has experienced too much of it.

So the Gators will finish the season with a 13-17 record, the worst record in coach Amanda Butler’s eight-year stint as leader of the program.

In short, no one person is to blame for the team’s failures this year.

The disappointment seems greater considering the unrealistic expectations the team placed on itself at the beginning of the season and the expectations that Gator fans place on all of the school’s teams.

Those unrealistic expectations were evident from training camp in October, when the team convened for practice in Gainesville to try and improve upon last season’s finish — an ambitious endeavor itself.

Last season’s team reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament, led by de facto team leader Jaterra Bonds, who Florida lost after the season to graduation.

That team beat a ranked Kentucky team twice in the regular season, and was convinced they should be rewarded for it in the preseason Top 25 polls the following season.

However, when said polls came out, the Gators were nowhere to be seen.

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In fact, they didn’t even get a vote.

But now, it seems the polls were correct.

The loss of Bonds hurt the team offensively, and the coaches sensed that no one on the team could replace her production.

Realizing the lack of scoring the Gators would encounter this season, Butler and strength and conditioning coordinator Tyler Stuart rightfully placed an early emphasis on the defensive end.

If you can’t score, make sure the other team can’t and make sure you force turnovers to get transition baskets.

This was the game plan of Florida’s offense, and it worked at times.

The team jumped out to a 5-1 start before a three-game losing streak tempered those expectations slightly.

But a loss to Eastern Washington in the Gator Holiday Classic seemingly erased any illusion the team had of advancing to the first second-straight NCAA tournament in Butler’s tenure.

Then came the dagger in the heart of the team’s chemistry.

Junior transfer Antoinette Bannister, arguably the team’s most consistent bench scorer, was arrested on Jan. 16 and kicked off the team after she admitted to stealing and using teammate Viktorija Dimaite’s credit card during the opening weeks of training camp.

It was later revealed Bannister had previously taken the credit card of freshman Haley Lorenzen, who turned out to be a surprise contributor for the Gators this season.

From there, Florida went 4-8 down the stretch, including the season-ending loss to Auburn.

For all the talk of disappointment surrounding the Gators, honestly, is anyone actually surprised?

With how much is said about the Gators as an all-around athletic powerhouse, the one team that for years has consistently underwhelmed and floundered in the SEC is the women’s basketball team.

They have never finished on top of the SEC or won any form of championship in the 40 years the program has existed.

The Gators have only made it as far as the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament, and that was in the 1997-98 season when Carol Ross was leading the program.

An optimist would like to say that with all the success other Florida teams have seen, the women’s basketball team will eventually find their footing.

Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley, an adamant supporter of consistency in programs, knows that Butler is not the problem.

The coach, herself a former Gator under Ross, was declared safe by Foley despite finishing with the worst record of her tenure.

Foley obviously sees that the program needs work, and if anything positive should be taken from this season, it’s that the people in charge know that changes need to come to the program or the Gators women’s basketball will continue to be mired in mediocrity.

"I think she inherited a very difficult situation," Foley said about Butler as a coach.

"I think internally I might have made the comment that when she came in here, I’m not sure if it was a ground zero. It may have been less than ground zero. Eight years is a long time, but Amanda Butler is a grinder and we’ll keep grinding here and hopefully get this thing turned around."

"We have work to do, but I love Amanda Butler. She’s a grinder and will keep grinding."

He wants to give Butler the help she needs – it just isn’t clear what the answer is.

 Follow Graham Hall on Twitter @Graham311

Amanda Butler calls out a play during Florida's 64-56 loss to No. 6 Tennessee on Feb. 8 in the O'Connell Center.

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