With the start of practice now all but gone from the team’s rearview mirror and the start of the regular season still a ways off, the Florida women’s basketball team is doing everything possible to remain focused.
Coach Amanda Butler said the challenge is twofold, and her staff is doing everything possible to address both the individual and collective challenges that show up at this point in the preseason.
"We do a lot of things individually, a lot of individual challenges to them to try and improve through watching film or pointing out specific things that we want each individual to try and strive to improve from day to day or week to week," Butler said on Monday.
"And then collectively just reminders of where we’re at, how far away we are from our goals. Being able to work in the closed scrimmages really helps … and so there’s little things sprinkled in there to remind you and keep you excited."
Part of what has helped the team as a whole stay focused is the competitive atmosphere in practice, which several players have brought up recently.
Among them is redshirt senior point guard Cassie Peoples, who said that the competition has been noticeable on both ends of the floor.
"When we defend each other, we’re not just letting each other do what we want," Peoples said. "We’re actually pressuring each other the way an opposing opponent would do.
"When we’re going on offense we try to score on each other every time we go — we’re not trying to give each other anything easy."
Aside from helping the team stay focused, the competitive atmosphere of practice should test the Gators constantly.
The hope is when Southeastern Conference play rolls around in January, Florida is prepared for the brutal conference schedule.
Last season, with an abysmal conference record of 5-11, UF finished 12th out of the 14 SEC teams.
This year’s SEC Women’s Basketball Preseason Media Poll has Florida slated for another 12th-place finish, in front of only the two schools from neighboring Alabama.
"It’s been pretty brutal — brutal in a good way though," Butler said.
"It gets really intense. That’s another thing that we want to do, we want that to be a part of our identity as well. … We don’t just compete well, we compete with a great deal of intensity and I think our practices are giving us that opportunity."
Florida is only two years removed from a second-round exit in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, and three of the starters from that team in Ronni Williams, Cassie Peoples and Carlie Needles are still significant contributors.
With all of the off-court distractions that the team endured last year, most within the program are confident the Gators are on the upswing heading into the season.
Peoples, for one, feels that this team is definitely capable of reaching new heights.
"I want this team to go somewhere we’ve never gone," she said.
"I want us to make it deep into the NCAA playoffs, I want us to have a 20-win season this year, I want us to go undefeated in non-conference and there’s no reason why we can’t be top four or five in the SEC."
Follow Ethan Bauer on Twitter @ebaueri
UF point guard Cassie Peoples dribbles during Florida's 64-56 loss to Tennessee on Feb. 8, 2015, in the O'Connell Center.