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Steffi Sorensen, Marshae Dotson, Sha Brooks & Coach Butler

Monday March 23, 2009Gators Preview Their NCAA Second Round Match-Up vs. Connecticut

Storrs, CT

Steffi Sorensen, Marshae Dotson, Sha Brooks & Coach Butler

The University of Florida women’s basketball team plays top-seeded Connecticut on Tuesday at 7:11 p.m. in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Amanda Butler, Sha Brooks Marshae Dotson and Steffi Sorensen participated in a 90-minute practice session at Gampel Pavilion before they talked with the media Monday about the match-up.





“We’re excited to be one day closer to playing again. We got so much practice in the past month and we’re just really excited about the opportunity to come out and play games again. Yesterday afternoon was fantastic and we’ve had a good day of condensed preparation. We’ve got a few more things to get right before we take the floor, but we’re excited about this opportunity. That’s how we look at it. You’ve got a choice when you’re playing a team like UConn – to look at it as an opportunity or as a challenge. We’re focused on the opportunity.”


On how much she remembers from playing against Connecticut as a player in 1991 …

“We didn’t win – that’s about all I remember. I remember a very, very long drive from our hotel to the gym and, after losing, it seemed longer on the drive back. So many memories are of my coaching career and not so much of my playing career. I remember great support, fantastic fans being here and this being a loud building. I was the second-leading scorer, which is a pretty good indication that we didn’t play well.”


On if she sensed in 1991 that UConn would become a nationally prominent program …

“They were obviously a program on the rise – there was no question about it. There was definitely excitement here. The support was tremendous already at that point and I think that’s one of the indications of a program and the direction that they’re headed in – what it feels like as an opponent when you come into their gym. I think that with the energy in this building, it was apparent that there was something special starting.”


On comparing Florida’s Sha Brooks with Connecticut’s Renee Montgomery …

“Comparing the two players, I think that there are a lot of similarities because they’re both capable of making plays and impacting the success of their teams in so many different ways at both ends of the court. They’re undoubtedly the floor leader for both of their teams and both of their teams go as they go. That’s not to diminish the importance of the other players on the floor, but they’re the ones that have the ball in their hands the most and they’re the ones who have the first opportunity to defend the ball as well. They’re responsible for setting the tone for their teams. When you look at Connecticut has accomplished this year and you look at what Florida has accomplished this year, you have to look at the tone-setters, so I think they’re very similar in that regard. Sha’s practice and work-ethic is another reason why we have experienced the success that we have. I think the point guards set the tone for, a lot of times, the way practice is going to go. I would assume that Renee plays a similar role in setting the tone for UConn practices. Reading some of the comments that the players have made about what their practices are like and what their coach expects out of them, I’m sure a lot of that comes directly from her as it does from our team directly from Sha.”


On the obstacles Florida will have to overcome to defeat UConn

“I think that you can focus on all those many, many, many things or you can kind of break it down into the three or four most important things that you’ve got to spend this day and a half that we have to get ready. There are obvious personnel challenges, but I also think that we’ve got some great answers for some of those challenges. Renee [Montgomery] is a fantastic player and a fantastic point guard, but so is Sha Brooks. I think that’s going to be an intriguing match-up. Same thing with Tina Charles – she was awesome yesterday, but I think it’s also going to be a great match-up when she and Marshae are going head-to-head down on the low block. There’s a million things that we can sit here and look at but my answer is the same  as it has been all year long for whoever we’re playing, we’re going to play Florida basketball and we’re going to try to do the things that have gotten us here to this point. We are going to do things with the same type of pride and intensity that we have practiced them with, and take confidence in the way that we play.”


On the team’s difficult late-season stretch …

“I think that one of the things that maybe is not representative of our lack of success in February is that we played the toughest part of our schedule in February. That’s not to diminish the match-ups and some of the big wins that we had earlier this season, but when you really start to look at playing Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt and LSU at LSU and those two games back-to-back right off the heels of playing Tennessee, February got really, really tough. I think there were obviously some areas that we fell short in, but I don’t think that’s any excuse whatsoever. That’s our league. You play the best teams in the country every night and some of those nights happen to fall on their home courts. I think that we did have to get back and re-visit how important our half-court toughness was, in particular, on defense. The break that we had in between our last conference ballgame and the SEC Tournament and then the SEC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament, we put in the time and really addressed some of those issues. We had some great challenging battles in practice and really amped up the level of competition that we had in practice. I think that’s one of the things that happens in February as you get so focused on game planning and who we are playing next that the competitive level of your practice sometimes dips a little bit because you’re so focused on your opponent. In the two or three weeks that have led up until now, we’ve been able to refocus, in particular, on our defense and pay attention to some of the details just about how we do things that we needed to address.”


On how she defines “Florida Basketball” …

“One of those things is toughness – just absolute physical and mental toughness. I think that when you compete in our league and if you want to be a contender in postseason, you have got to be physically and mentally tough. That’s one of the things that we’ve been focused on since day one. I also think that that’s something that is within your control. There’s a lot of things that aren’t within your control, no matter who you are playing or where you are playing, but you can always be in control of how tough you defend. You can always be in control of how tough you play in the paint. You can always be in control of how quickly you bounce back off the floor when you get knocked down – and you’re going to get knocked down. Toughness is one of the things that I hope has been a defining characteristic of our team. We like to play fast; we like to play the whole court. Although Sha and Marshae, especially down the stretch, have taken over some of the larger scoring roles, I also think that we’ve got great balance on our team. When we look at the performance that Steffi put in yesterday – everything that I read that was said about our team before yesterday’s ballgame was about all you have to do is stop Sha Brooks and Marshae Dotson and Florida will fold – clearly that’s not the case. We get great minutes from players that don’t always show up statistically, so balance and teamwork is something that I think our team really believes in a lot as well. Making the most aggressive decision and making the most aggressive play that we can that makes sense every time down the floor – whether it’s offense or defense – is ultimately what we’re trying to do.”


On how beating a program like Tennessee will help the team prepare for UConn

“I think that the idea that you have of Tennessee is one of the greatest programs ever. I do think there is a little bit of a mental advantage when you have conquered one of those giants, but we feel like we’re playing that level of competition almost every single night in our league. There’s a lot of confidence to be gained, not just from one win, but several wins and several different circumstances. In the loss that that we had to Tennessee, we left the court that night thinking that we’re pretty good because our second half was one of the best halves of basketball that we have played all year. I do think that from a mental standpoint that you can certainly draw confidence from it, but I just think that’s the start of where we should draw confidence.”


On if Florida can feed off of Tennessee’s loss to Ball State on Sunday night …

“It is March Madness and we talked about this before the selection show. The craziest things happen this time of year – you see the most last second shots go in and weird end-of-game situations. You see teams lose ballgames that you never thought would have lost and teams win ballgames that you never would have thought they were going to win. You’re just have to capitalize on that, especially when you’re in the underdog role as we are. If you’re not in the underdog role, you’ve got to be ready for anything and everything because truly anything and everything can happen. No doubt watching that ballgame, as tough as it was to watch one of our conference sisters go down, there is a little bit of an idea there that if Ball State can beat Tennessee, that certainly can translate into our ballgame on Tuesday or anybody’s ballgame. It doesn’t make any difference that the seed in front of their name is a one and ours is an eight. None of those things matter – it’s who’s ready to play; who’s tougher or who expects to win.”


On teaching toughness …

“I think that the positive is that the players know what my expectation is because of how they think that I played. I think that’s a good thing. Injuries are a part of our game. Everyone gets knocked down, everyone twists an ankle, everybody jams a finger and sometimes you get stitches, sometimes something comes out of joint and sometimes you can play through it and sometimes you can’t. I think they know that if they think they can play through it, then that’s what I want them to do. I think they take great pride in their own individual toughness. My expectations are one thing, but an individual’s expectations of herself are a lot more important than what my expectations are.”




On head coach Amanda Butler …

“I’d have to say she teaches us toughness. I feel like that if she wasn’t a tough person, then that wouldn’t be one of her main goals. She thinks that we can beat a team just by being tough. We feed into that and our whole team believes that if you are tough night in and night out, then you’ll come out with a win.”


On how beating a program like Tennessee will help the team prepare for UConn

“I wouldn’t say that beating Tennessee would help us prepare for Connecticut. I think that all of the teams that we beat in the SEC will help us prepare for Connecticut. We can’t just say ‘Oh, we’ve beaten Tennessee, so we’re going to beat Connecticut.’ It has been from the games that we have won and learned, and the games we have lost.”




On how playing with Sha Brooks prepares her to face Connecticut’s Renee Montgomery …

Sha is pretty smart, she’s competitive and she gives us a lot of energy. She kind of makes everyone play harder and play as tough of defense or offense as she does.”


On head coach Amanda Butler …

“She’s very competitive. I think we feed off of her energy a lot. In practice, she challenges us everyday. I think that is a very big thing and it trickles down to our point guards who lead us on the floor night in and night out. She gets on us and she expects 100 percent all the time. She brings the best out of everyone on the team.”




On how playing with Sha Brooks prepares her to face Connecticut’s Renee Montgomery …

“I just think she does it all and from a point guard standpoint, that’s what you want. She can shoot the 3, she can drive, she dishes the ball, and she plays excellent defense. That’s how Renee Montgomery is. We guard Sha everyday in practice. She’s relentless, and she’s competitive and I love playing with her. I think that has prepped us all year to play against someone like Renee Montgomery.”


On head coach Amanda Butler …

“Actually, the other day, one of my friends called me and said that the biggest thing she noticed about Coach Butler is how passionate she is on the sideline. I think as a player, you want that from your coach. You don’t want them to just sit there and nod their head. You want them to be a part of the game with you. I know that all of us out there feed off of her stomping her heel on the ground. She just has so much energy and that’s how our team plays. It’s definitely a direct result of how she coaches.”


On the “underdog role” …

“I just think that in the SEC, you think of Tennessee and LSU and Georgia. Florida is trying to make our way into getting into that comparison with being the great teams in the league. I think that going into this year – inside our program – we knew we had a special team, but no one else really knew about it. We kind of took that underdog role as far as playing Florida State and playing Arizona State thinking we’re not supposed to win this. We kind of got out of that a little bit when we started winning a little bit and, now that we’ve had a tough February, we kind of got back to no one really expecting us to do anything anymore. People think that we’re going to fold. As long as we come out and play hard and play like we have nothing to lose, I think good things will come.”


On if Florida can feed off of Tennessee’s loss to Ball State on Sunday night …

“I just think that when it comes down to March Madness, they don’t call it that for no reason. Anything can really happen and, watching that Tennessee game, gave us a little confidence going into this game knowing that certainly people are beatable. The pressure’s really on UConn because everyone’s expecting them to win. For us, we really have nothing to lose. People weren’t really expecting us to win the first game. We’re just going to go out there and play Florida basketball and see what happens.”



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