Amanda Butler Proud of Second UF Team

Not much was expected of the Florida Gators women's basketball team this past season. The Gators were coming off a 19-win NIT season, but lost top scorer Depree Bowden (13.4) and didn't seem likely to start anyone over six feet tall. However Amanda Butler and her tenacious bunch had their own ideas and put together a remarkable campaign.

The Gators won 24 games and posted a 9-5 SEC record. Florida earned a bye in the SEC Tournament, and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tourney – both for just the second time in school history. They reached the top ten for the first time in eight years after beating Tennessee in the O'Connell Center improving their record to 22-2, 8-1 in the SEC. Butler's team faded down the stretch, worn down from playing much bigger and stronger teams game in and game out, but still ended up with one of the best seasons in UF history.

Florida carried the slogan "bigger and better" for this season and while the Gators were rarely bigger, they were clearly better. That's something Butler points to with great pride.

"Definitely so, there's not any question. I think it says a lot about this team that you can talk about things like that and then back it up. I think that was a great way for us to start the season, by projecting big things. That's the only way you achieve great things is to set those expectations high at the beginning."

Florida was led by perhaps the two toughest basketball players on campus regardless of gender in Sha Brooks (16.4/2.8) and Marshae Dotson (14.0/6.9). Brooks was the explosive offensive threat who scored 24 points or more 10 times. Dotson at 5-11 battled much taller players in the paint and never backed down. That duo was supported by Steffi Sorensen (9.2/5.2), Sharielle Smith (7.6/6.2) and Lonnika Thompson (6.1/1.8).

Florida's two biggest players were 6-4 freshman Azania Stewart and 6-3 senior Aneika Henry and both contributed off the bench combining for about eight points and six rebounds a game and blocking 74 shots between them.

The Gators season ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against powerhouse Connecticut on their home floor. The 28-point drubbing (87-59) was the most one-sided loss of the season, but even there Butler says some positives.

"We met the biggest challenge of our limits. We didn't play our best basketball by any means, and 90 seconds into the game we had to play without our best player (Brooks had 2 fouls). Those guys took the court without one ounce of fear and not one ounce of intimidation about who they were playing. This may be the greatest team in Connecticut history but in our mind there were no limits. It may seem silly to talk about it now that we think we were good enough to play in the national championship game but we fully believed it."

Butler says this season is the beginning of a new era for Florida women's basketball program. She says there bar has been raised, and it's not coming down.

"This team set the standard for the future of this program. They raised the level of expectation for next year's team, for our returning players and the incoming freshmen. I think we'll be disappointed every year if there's anything less than post-season play in the NCAA Tournament. Is that going to be tough to uphold? Absolutely, I know what I'm saying but I don't think you back down off those expectations because it's going to be tough."

Tough doesn't begin to describe the challenge Florida faces in 2009-10 with the departures of All-SEC performers Brooks and Dotson. Tomorrow Butler takes a look ahead to what next year might bring.

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