Butler Is Doing It

Amanda Butler was not Florida's first choice to replace Carolyn Peck at the helm of the Florida Women's basketball program. She may not have been the second or third choice either, but indications are the Gators made the right choice to bring the former Florida player back to head up the program.

Florida is 13-5 with two wins in three SEC outings with virtually the same cast of characters that went 9-22 last year with just two conference wins in 14 games. Florida is a team playing with more intensity, more togetherness and more passion than at anytime in recent years. As a result the Gators are in contention for an NCAA bid if they can win six or seven of the remaining eleven games on the regular season schedule.

Florida gets a chance to take a major step in that direction Thursday night when No. 17-ranked Georgia visits the O'Connell Center. Wins over ranked teams count extra in the selection process, so knocking off the Dawgs would put Butler's young program on the map, so to speak.

The Sec has long been the top conference in women's basketball and Florida certainly trails Tennessee, LSU, Georgia and Vanderbilt in the league's pecking order. That leaves Florida to battle Auburn, Arkansas and Kentucky to be fifth in line. Sunday's impressive (92-74) win at Arkansas effectively makes up for a sloppy loss (60-58) at Kentucky.

Future Shaping Up Well

That Butler has had this much success in year one is impressive. That she has done so with a roster that includes just one senior, Depree Bowden bodes well for next year as well. Bowden's 15 points and five rebounds will certainly be missed, but the Gators will return such stalwarts as Marshae Dotson (15/9) and Sha Brooks (11/3) along with a developing post player in Aneika Henry (6/6) and an improving bench led by Sharielle Smith (8.6) and Jennifer Mosser (6.6).

Next season Florida will also have five new players ready to step in and try to contribute. Florida has two of those players on campus already. 6-2 center/forward Ndidi Madu is out with an injury and will be a redshirt freshman while 5-9 sharpshooter Susan Yenser will be a fourth year junior after sitting out a transfer year from Clemson.

Butler has three recruits coming in to join that group, led by 6-4 center Azania Stewart, one of the top post prospects in the country. A native of England, Stewart stars for Notre Dame Academy in Middleburg, Virginia, the top ranked high school team in the country. Tailor Jones is a guard from Lake Mary High School near Orlando who helped her team to the state finals as a freshman and sophomore. Trumae Lucas is a tremendous point guard prospect who was named the most outstanding player in the Class 4-A North Carolina State Title game last season despite playing for the losing team. Lucas scored 33 in the 69-64 contest.

After three losing seasons in five years it appears the Florida basketball program is in good hands and headed in the right direction. If Florida once again becomes an annual NCAA participant everyone will be able say that the Butler did it.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel

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