As loss after loss continued to pile on to the Gators’ conference record earlier this month, Amanda Butler finally hit her breaking point. She couldn’t take it anymore.
Following a careless, nine-point defeat against Ole Miss on Feb 6., the coach — in her 10th season at the helm of UF women’s basketball — called out her players for their lack of effort on the defensive side of the ball, describing their play as “poor” and “disappointing.”
“I’ve been around the block long enough to know how good our league is,” Butler said after the game. “You’ve got to take great pride in defending the other team and rebounding the ball on every single possession. We did not do that.”
The disheartening performance against the Rebels dropped UF’s record to 2-8 in the SEC, giving UF its worst start to conference play in over a decade and causing Butler to vow to not “repeat this type of performance again.”
So far, Butler has come through on that promise.
Over their past two games, the Gators' defense has mightily improved, limiting its opponents to a combined 54.5 points per game, 34.7-percent shooting from the field and 21.1-percent shooting from behind the three-point arc.
Most importantly, Florida’s strong play resulted in a couple of victories, which have been rare this season.
How did Butler turn around UF’s defense in contests against Arkansas and Alabama?
Quite simply, she went back to the fundamentals.
Over the past week, the UF head coach spent the majority of her practices running basic drills on help-side defense and closing out opponents.
“(We) literally took it back to the types of drills that you would do in the preseason,” assistant coach Shimmy Gray-Miller said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of teams right now doing (those drills) in practice in February.”
The results, however, have worked in Florida’s favor.
The Gators were solid in containing dribble penetration against the Razorbacks and Crimson Tide, holding both teams under 60 points. Florida was allowing 78.3 points per game in the SEC before then.
Florida also outrebounded Arkansas and Alabama 92-61 combined, following impressive performances on the glass from senior forward Ronni Williams and freshman guard Delicia Washington.
Considering the fact that Gray-Miller called the Razorbacks and Crimson Tide “two of the more athletic teams” in the conference, the second-year UF assistant coach is pleased with the direction her players are headed, crediting Butler for taking the simple approach when addressing their defensive deficiencies.
“It paid off,” she said on the team’s recent practices. “You can see we did a much better job.”
UF head coach Amanda Butler talks to her team during Florida's 84-75 loss to Ole Miss on Feb. 6, 2017, in the O'Connell Center.