Women's Basketball Headline
By Jenna Perlman
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – There are few things more special than rivalries in college athletics. The energy is different and the crowd is more intense, and with pride on the line, anything can happen.
“All you have to say to someone is, ‘It’s Florida vs. Florida State,’ ” UF coach Amanda Butler said. “Even before you have the privilege of putting on a Gator uniform, you know how big that game is.”
Thursday night the Gators (3-1) face the in-state rival Seminoles (3-0) at the O’Connell Center. It will mark the 70th meeting between the teams. Although the Gators lead the series 41-28, the Seminoles have won three out of the last four meetings.
Last year the Gators traveled to Tallahassee and suffered one of their worst losses of the season. They fell 98-67.
“We got spanked,” senior guard Jaterra Bonds said.
The best thing that can come from a spanking is learning your lesson and move on. That’s exactly what the Gators have done.
“We definitely want to do well against their zone defense,” said senior forward Lily Svete. “That’s what we’re concentrating on. It was a heartbreaking loss last year and we need to redeem ourselves.”
For Bonds and Svete, UF’s lone seniors, the game will mark their final crack at the Seminoles. They want to end it on a high note.
Bonds is from Gainesville, so the whole FSU thing is in her DNA. Svete may be from Indiana, but her five years here in town -- and in a Gators uniform -- has given her an appreciation for the rivalry and its stakes.
“I don’t care if it’s ugly. I don’t care if it’s pretty. I don’t care if we’re hitting 3s or if we’re not,” she said. “I just want to win.”
Although Svete may not care if the game is pretty, Butler probably does.
Perhaps better than most coaches Butler understands the intensity surrounding UF-FSU matchups. Not only has she coached against the Noles for the past six years, but she also played against them a bunch as a Gators guard from 1990-1994, starting 99 of 114 games during her career.
“There’s a tremendous amount of energy that surrounds the game,” Butler said. “I think it is all positive energy. I was always very excited, that nervous type of excitement, as a player. And I still am as a coach.”
Last week, the Gators faced another Atlantic Coast Conference opponent in the Virginia Tech Hokies. The Gators shot just 16 percent in the first half and fell behind by 28 points before rallying to within six points, ultimately losing 71-59.
The Gators do not want to dig themselves into that kind of hole against the Noles. They did that last year and wound up on the wrong end of a 31-point margin.
“We need to start strong,” Svete said. “When things aren’t going our way we need to come together sooner. We can’t wait to come back. Someone has to make a play and we need to get our momentum going sooner rather than later.”
The Gators will get help from Bonds, who leads the team in scoring (18.5 points per game) and assists (5.5 per game), and freshman forward Ronni Williams, who leads the team at 7.8 rebounds per game.
A faster, more balanced team on offense will also give the Gators an advantage over the Noles, Bonds said.
“They can’t just scout one person,” she said. “They have to worry about everyone else who is a threat on the team.”
As with all rivalry games there’s more on the line than a win or loss. For the Gators it’s a chance to send out their seniors with a win over their biggest rival and to redefine themselves in the eyes of that school from Tallahassee.
“We’ve got two seniors who have a tremendous amount of pride,” Butler said. “I think that they want it even more for all the right reasons. They want it for this year’s opportunities and what it means to them this year as opposed to just the redemption factor from last year.”