Concerned friends and family members have been contacting Haley Lorenzen all week.
“What the heck is wrong with the Gators?” she recalled friends asking her. “What is going on with you guys?”
To the outside world, things appear to be falling apart for the Florida women’s basketball team.
Its leading scorer, Eleanna Christinaki, left the program last month after refusing to accept a half-game suspension against North Carolina A&T.
UF is averaging an SEC-worst 20.8 turnovers per game while also shooting a lowly 26.8 percent from the three-point line.
And since conference play began on Jan. 1, UF (9-7, 0-3 SEC) has opened with three straight losses for the first time ever under head coach Amanda Butler.
However, despite their struggles, Lorenzen and the rest of the Gators continue to stay optimistic about this season.
“No one has experienced what we have experienced thus far,” Lorenzen said with a smile. “So that’s where I’m confident in our team because we are continuing to get better.”
Florida’s next opportunity rebound comes tonight when it travels to Starkville to face No. 4 Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs (17-0, 3-0 SEC) are one of three Division I women’s basketball teams still holding a perfect record, along with No. 1 UConn and No. 15 Virginia Tech. Mississippi State defeats opponents by an average of 26.3 points per game and shoots 46.8 percent from the floor.
Junior guards Victoria Vivians and Morgan William make up a backcourt that is one of the best the SEC has to offer, and a pair of centers in senior Chinwe Okorie and sophomore Teaira McCowan tower over defenders at 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-7, respectively.
Still, despite tonight’s daunting task, UF has reason to believe it can compete with Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs share a lot of similarities with No. 5 South Carolina, which the Gators faced at home on Sunday. While Florida lost to the Gamecocks 81-62, a horrendous second quarter that saw UF get outscored by 21 was the difference in an otherwise evenly matched contest.
“We would’ve been in a possession-possession game if it wasn’t for that second quarter,” Lorenzen said. “So it’s really encouraging because we were this close to beating a really good team.”
A key for the Gators tonight will be to stay out of foul trouble. The Bulldogs are one of the best in the country at drawing contact and earning trips to the charity stripe, earning the third-most free throw attempts in the country this season with 391.
With Florida currently holding only eight active players on its roster, it knows it doesn’t possess the depth it needs to be competitive if key contributors find themselves stuck on the bench.
“If you foul, that’s jeopardizing our team,” senior forward Ronni Williams said. “And that’s for each and every one of us. If you’re out of the game, we’re down.”
Haley Lorenzen attempts a layup during Florida's 92-69 loss to Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference Tournament on March 4, 2016, at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.