Following their matchup with a perennial cellar dweller, the Gators will now face a contest with the cream of the Sun Belt Conference crop.
Florida (6-1) traveled just past the state line to face South Alabama (2-4) six days ago, capping off a brutal four-games-in-eight-days stretch. The Jaguars of USA haven’t made the Sun Belt Conference tournament in two years, but still played well enough to take a lead into halftime against UF.
Now, with nearly a full week of rest, the Gators will welcome the Arkansas State Red Wolves to Gainesville for a game tonight at 7 in the O’Connell Center.
ASU (4-1) boasts a winning record heading into tonight’s matchup as well as two trips in a row to the Sun Belt Conference Tournament finals, which it lost both times.
Florida, while certainly getting quality minutes out of upperclassmen like junior Ronni Williams and redshirt senior Carlie Needles, has managed to get major contributions from underclassmen Haley Lorenzen, Dyandria Anderson and Eleanna Christinaki.
Arkansas State, on the other hand, relies heavily on upperclassmen.
In fact, all five of its projected starters are seniors.
Led by redshirt senior guard Aundrea Gamble, who UF coach Amanda Butler described as "easily a pro," and her 17.6 points per game, the Red Wolves currently feature three players averaging double-figure scoring in Gamble, senior guard Jessica Flanery and senior forward Khadija Brown-Haywood.
Interestingly, though, not one of the five senior starters measures more than six feet tall. Brown-Haywood, who is the tallest at 5-foot-11, leads the team in rebounding with 8.4 per game. However, ASU does have an option to add defensive enforcement off the bench if need be.
That defensive presence is courtesy of sophomore forward Lauren Bradshaw, who is 6-foot-2 and leads the team in blocks with six.
As far as UF’s plan for combatting the veteran squad, Butler says that what jumps out when scouting Arkansas State isn’t one specific area of the game, but rather its competence across the board.
"I’ve been very impressed with them in every regard," she said.
"The way that they’re coached, the things that they do, individually how talented they are and how well each one of them does the job with such purpose. They’re just a very, very talented team — very well balanced."
Lorenzen said that in tonight’s game, the key for the Gators is discipline and composure — two things she said were lacking in the first half against South Alabama but were recovered in the second.
"Learning what we have learned from South Alabama and when things haven’t gone our way, learning how to be disciplined and being composed is really important to beating Arkansas State," she said.
Needles, who is not only a statistical contributor but also one of the team’s unquestioned leaders, added that another layer to conquering the Red Wolves will be relying on the team’s upperclassmen to enforce the discipline and composure that Lorenzen talked about.
"We need to make sure that their experience doesn’t overpower the experience on our team," she said.
Follow Ethan Bauer on Twitter @ebaueri
UF point guard Carlie Needles drives to the basket during Florida's 99-34 win over Savannah State on Nov. 24, 2015, in the O'Connell Center.