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Monday January 6, 2014Gators Gaining Confidence with Recent Success, but Focused on Present

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Amanda Butler’s message was simple yet cerebral. If her Florida women’s basketball really thought about it, truly processed and embraced it, her Gators program had a chance to take a very significant step. 


“The only limitations are your expectations,” Butler said. 


With that, the Gators took the court Sunday expecting to beat sixth-ranked Kentucky. And it did so despite facing a team that had been to the Elite Eight three straight years and dogged by an 0-19 mark against top-10 teams in Butler’s seven seasons. 


UF left Memorial Coliseum with an 83-73 victory that snapped a six-game losing streak against one of the Southeastern Conference's elite program's and served as proof positive -- for both Florida's coaches and players -- of this team’s potential. It was the eighth straight win for the Gators (12-3, 2-0), who appear to have improved leaps and bounds since a neutral site loss to winless Illinois State six weeks ago. 


“I’ve been waiting my career for a win like that one,” senior point guard Jaterra Bonds said.


The Florida women had not beaten a top-10 team since 2006.  


“It just showed our kids what they can accomplish when they do what they’re supposed to do and continue to compete,” said Florida assistant coach David Lowery, who took Butler’s place at the media-opportunity podium Monday while UF’s head coach was on the road recruiting. “I mean, Kentucky is a great team. That team beat Louisville. That team beat Baylor. For us to go up there and really grind one out -- after coming so close in past games -- it just showed a lot of growth with these players.” 


One in particular. 


The expectations on freshman forward Ronni Williams, the first McDonald’s All-American ever to sign with UF, were substantial. Also unrealistic. Williams went to Lexington averaging 8.6 points and 6.6 rebounds, but having failed to reach double-figure scoring five of her previous six games. She’d also fouled out in nine of 15 games. 


Against the Wildcats (13-2), Williams posted 19 points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots, including one she swatted into the air, grabbed herself, then raced 94 feet for a layup while the Gators were erasing an nine-point deficit. Maybe one of the best sequences of the young season.  


But maybe even more impressive than those numbers was Williams' maturity. With just under two minutes to play and the Gators nursing a 75-72 lead, UF made a key stop and Williams had the ball to the sideline, where she was trapped, picked up her dribble and committed what looked like a costly turnover and the worst possible time. 


That’s when Bonds went up to Williams and talked her off the cliff. Bonds explained what the right play would have been and told her to move on. 


A minute later, Williams stepped in front of UK star Jennifer O'Neill and drew a huge charge on what turned out to be a made basket. 


Great leadership by the veteran Bonds. Great composure by the rookie Williams. 


“That, right there, just spoke volumes,” Lowery said. 


Something else did, too. The Gators’ collective ability to adjust defensively on the fly.


Florida was struggling against Kentucky’s halfcourt offense. The Wildcats were screening like crazy, picking off Gator defenders and getting their talented offensive players open shots or splitting UF double-teams for shots in the paint. 


That’s when UF’s coaches decided to play a “4-all” defense, a scheme they’d never tried before; not even in practice. 


When screened, the Gators switched on the "1" through "4" spots; everyone but the “5” (or center) position, which usually was Williams. It was something UF never expected to do, something the Wildcats had not seen on tape. 


“It bothered them,” Lowery said. “It didn’t give them opportunities to dribble-drive to the basket.” 


And it further frustrated a Kentucky team that came into the game averaging 94.8 points per game, including 30 in transition. The Wildcats (13-2) finished with 73 points and -- get this -- just two in transition. 


“I think it gives us confidence knowing that not only we can play with a team like that, but that we’ve beaten a team like that,” Bonds said. “But it’s just one game. Now we have to handle business Thursday.” 


That would be against Arkansas (14-1, 1-1), which will come to the O’Connell Center to test how the Gators respond to prosperity. 


Last week, Butler had UF’s men’s coach Billy Donovan talk to her team about focusing on the present; about capturing and living by the one-day-at-a-time coach's cliché` so often ridiculed. 


Well, now comes a chance to prove Sunday in Lexington wasn’t a fluke, but rather a watershed moment for Butler’s program. 


“It’s another step, absolutely, and the next step,” Lowery said. “We have to keep them grounded. We’re just two games in, and there’s a lot of basketball to play. It’s like Coach Donovan said. It's one day, one game at a time. Don’t look ahead, no need to look behind, don’t take anything for granted.” 



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