Amanda Butler has been dealt a bad hand all season.
The coach in her 10th year at the helm of the Florida women’s basketball team has had to handle her leading scorer quitting the program, a slew of injuries depleting her roster down to eight active players and a demoralizing five-game losing streak — putting her team at the bottom of the SEC standings to open league play.
So when the Gators (10-9, 1-5 SEC) finally won their first conference contest of 2017 on Sunday against Georgia, no one was more hyped in the locker room than Butler herself.
“(There was) lots of cheering, lots of hugging, lots of high-fiving, chest-bumping, all that stuff,” assistant coach Shimmy Gray-Miller said. “That all came from Amanda actually.”
Propelled by an 18-3 run to begin the second half, UF defeated the Bulldogs 76-68 in Athens to end Butler’s worst start to conference play under her tenure as Florida’s head coach.
While the win served as an emotional high for Butler, she was also extremely happy for her players to finally receive the results they’ve been working for.
“I just felt so good for our team,” Butler said. “These kids bring it every single day, and they have been bringing it all year long, and so for them to finally be rewarded for that … made it really special.”
The Gators’ time for celebration is over, however, as their next SEC battle comes tonight at 7 p.m. when they face Tennessee (12-7, 3-3 SEC) at the O’Connell Center.
UF has lost 48 of its 52 all-time matchups against the Volunteers. It snapped an 11-game losing streak against UT last season with a 74-66 victory in Knoxville, a contest that Butler didn’t coach due to a family emergency.
With Florida’s head coach back for this year’s contest, though, interior play is going to be a key point of emphasis if the Gators want to win.
“Very dynamic rebounding team, have a lot of size at the end of the floor, like to block a lot of shots,” Butler said of Tennessee. “So we have to play a good game all the way around.”
The Volunteers are led by Mercedes Russell, a 6-foot-6 redshirt junior who averages 16.6 points per game and ranks fourth in the SEC in rebounding at 9.4 boards per game.
As always, however, the Gators' number one focus is on themselves rather than their opponent.
“We’re not as concerned about what they’re doing,” freshman forward Sydney Morang said. “We’re just preparing the way that we did for Georgia and playing the game that we need to play.”
Amanda Butler calls out instructions during Florida's 92-69 loss to Kentucky at the SEC Tournament on March 4, 2016.