The last time Florida’s women’s basketball team made the trek to Jacksonville’s Veterans Memorial Arena, it fell victim to a 43-year trend.
The Gators have traditionally struggled away from Gainesville, registering a combined record of 328-370 in all away and neutral-site games.
However, Amanda Butler isn’t concerned. As it prepares for a season-opening 12-game road trip, the 10th-year coach is confident that her team will get off on the right foot against South Alabama this Friday.
With nine players eligible to play, Butler will be forced to run a short bench. But what the Gators lack in numbers, Butler said, they make up for in competitiveness. Drawing comparisons to Florida’s eight-player 2013-14 team that reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Butler highlighted the drive her players had, pinpointing it as a reason for their success.
“Our culture went through growth that I think was a direct result of having such a small, tight-knit group,” she said. “They had a lot of passion and just weren’t going to be denied for any reasons.
“I see a lot of those same qualities in this team.”
Aside from practices, the players make an effort to spend time together off the court, regularly going out to eat as a group and celebrating each other’s birthdays.
The bonds between them goes beyond basketball, and Butler believes that trust has bolstered their performance. Starters aren’t shy to sub-out when tired, confident that their bench will maintain the energy level that’s integral to the team’s identity.
“We like to say that we want to throw the first punch and be the tone-setters and not be back on our heels but up on our toes,” Butler said.
The coaching staff has done its part in readying the team for its six-week road slate, scheduling scrimmages in places like Albany, Georgia, and Daytona Beach. The Gators are familiar with their travel routines, comfortable with driving the distance to their scheduled home games in Jacksonville and Ocala.
And despite what the record books might say, UF is ready to hit the road.
“Honestly, I think they’re looking forward to it,” Butler said.
“We have a group that likes each other, and travel is fun when you’re with people that you like.”
Coach Amanda Butler (right) celebrates with Eleanna Christinaki during Florida's win over Kentucky on Jan. 31, 2016, in the O'Connell Center.