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Florida coach Amanda Butler and her Gators seek to rebound Sunday against Kentucky after a road loss at Arkansas.

Saturday February 8, 2014Gators Want to 'Bring It' Sunday against Kentucky

Florida coach Amanda Butler and her Gators seek to rebound Sunday against Kentucky after a road loss at Arkansas.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – They arrived home from what was a forgettable performance at Arkansas at around 1 a.m. on Friday.

About 13 hours later the Gators women’s basketball team was on the court at the O’Connell Center, ready to forget the previous night: the inclement weather, the difficult travel, a quiet and nearly empty Bud Walton Arena.

Most of all, they wanted to move past a 55-49 loss to the Razorbacks, a game the Gators could have won if they hadn’t been in such a giving mood. Florida committed 25 turnovers, which led to a 28-12 advantage for the Razorbacks in points off turnovers.

“We wish we could have the game back,’’ guard Carlie Needles (photo) said. “It was really disappointing for us. There are a bunch of excuses we could make about 25 turnovers, but at the end of the day, we just have to fix it.”

The loss didn’t derail the Gators’ hopes of an NCAA Tournament berth, but with six regular-season games remaining – three at home, three on the road – dropping one to the beatable Razorbacks won’t help any.

Carlie Needles

The Gators (16-7, 6-4 SEC) are sixth in the conference standings while Arkansas (16-7, 3-7) is near the bottom. The loss snapped Florida’s three-game win streak and made Sunday’s home game against Kentucky (17-5, 5-4) even more meaningful considering both teams are in the middle of the SEC pack with little margin for error.

Gators coach Amanda Butler had her team back in the gym early Friday to hit the reset button prior to the showdown with the Wildcats.

The Gators beat then-No. 6 Kentucky last month in Lexington and will need similar performances to stay in the thick of the conference race with road games at Georgia, South Carolina and Vanderbilt still on the horizon.

“There’s got to be a great deal of leadership and maturity,’’ Butler said. “One of the unique things that maybe you can find as a positive after a tough loss is that you’ve got a great opportunity that sometimes you don’t have when you are coming off a win. We’ve got to really capitalize on this opportunity, correct the things that we did poorly [on Thursday].”

There was no single culprit to blame in the loss at Arkansas. All eight Gators who played turned the ball over at least once. Guard Jaterra Bonds and forward Kayla Lewis each had five turnovers, and Needles gave it away four times. The 25 giveaways were the second most this season for Florida and negated a 43-30 rebound advantage.

Bonds, a two-time SEC Player of the Week honoree this season, scored 14 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished three assists. A fine game most nights.

“Twenty-five turnovers virtually against no pressure is always upsetting,’’ Bonds said. “That’s definitely something we have to correct.”

It won’t be easy against the Wildcats. Kentucky is known for its pressure defense and leads the league in steals at 11.2 per game.

Based on what Butler and her players said, the biggest issue in Thursday’s loss was not the turnovers, but a lack of energy that was instrumental in the freebies for Arkansas.

“It just kind of felt we were out of sync,’’ guard Lily Svete said. “We definitely need to change that. Kentucky is going to be hungry coming in here because we beat them at their place.”

While the Gators have been undermanned – they have used seven or eight players for most of the season due to various injuries and the loss of suspended Christin Mercer – they reeled off a nine-game win streak earlier in the season to move toward the top of the league standings.

Bonds has set the tone and the emergence of Lewis has made a difference without Mercer. Lewis is averaging 10.9 points and 8.7 rebounds. She has six double-doubles.

Despite the adversity, the Gators are right where they want to be: in contention for the program’s first trip to March Madness since 2012. They made the NIT a year ago and were picked to finish 10th in the SEC by the league’s coaches and media in the preseason.

Butler and assistants David Lowery, Angela Crosby and Murriel Page have done a nice job of maximizing the roster with an up-tempo style that thrives on points in transition and conditioning late in games.

“There has been a great deal of creativity on part of my staff,’’ Butler said prior to Friday’s practice. “We’ve done the best that we can to try and manage making sure we work really hard but making sure we are working smart. That’s obviously a tightrope walk.

“We can’t have an emotional response to losing a ballgame and come out here and have a crazy hard practice that doesn’t set us up to win our next ballgame.”

So on Friday, the plan was to watch film, talk about ways to avoid a repeat of Thursday’s loss, and turn the focus to Kentucky on Sunday.

Living in the past does no good this time of year. Not if the Gators want to have a future that includes March Madness.

“You either bring it or you don’t,’’ Needles said. “And if you don’t, you get beat.”

The plan Sunday against Kentucky: bring it.


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