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The Gators open NCAA Tournament play today against Dayton.

Sunday March 23, 2014Gators Aim for Another Postseason Run as They Open NCAA Tournament

The Gators open NCAA Tournament play today against Dayton.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

Senior point guard Jaterra Bonds won't be fazed by whatever transpires for the Gators in their first trip to the NCAA Tournament in two years.

Why would she?

Bonds and fellow senior Lily Svete have been exposed to a gamut of experiences in their careers. Two of the most memorable came in the postseason.

First, during their sophomore seasons, Bonds and Svete helped the Gators upset Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2012. The odds seemed stacked against Florida.

The Gators were in Bowling Green, Ohio, to face the Buckeyes, who made the short drive from Columbus to Bowling Green's new Stroh Center packed with Ohio State fans.

Jaterra Bonds

The Gators sent them home quiet with a 70-65 win.

"That was a great feeling,'' Bonds said. "I was a little kid in a candy store. It was a fun environment."

Next, Florida missed out on a trip to March Madness a year ago, instead receiving a bid to the WNIT. The Gators didn't waste it, winning four consecutive road games to advance to the WNIT Final Four.

The Gators ended the season with perhaps their best stretch of play all season, raising expectations for this season. Soon, those expectations were tapered due to transfers and injuries and a key suspension during the season.

The Gators opened the season with 10 players and spent much of the season with only eight or nine available.

Still, Florida (19-12) finished fifth in the Southeastern Conference in the regular season and is in University Park, Pa., today where the No. 11-seed Gators face sixth-seed Dayton (23-7) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The winner faces the Wichita State-Penn State winner on Tuesday for a Sweet 16 berth.

"It was always our goal from the beginning of the season to get into the tournament,'' Svete said. "We're just ready to compete. It's just so exciting."

The Gators view the adversity of the past several months as a plus.

"I don't think there is anything now that we haven't seen, faced, or had to deal with,'' Bonds said. "This is one of the toughest teams [I have played on]."

This is the third trip to the Big Dance for Gators head coach Amanda Butler in her seven seasons. The Gators face a Dayton team that plays a similar style. The Flyers like to run up and down the court, a system Butler used this season to help compensate for the Gators' lack of size and depth on the interior.

Now that they're here, the Gators want to hang around for a while in the program's 14th trip to the NCAA Tournament.

"You want to feel like in life that if you keep doing the right things, the right things are going to happen,'' Butler said. "We’ve said all along, in particular regarding the seniors, that we want them to get what they deserve. Anyone who has been around for any portion of Jaterra and Lily’s careers knows that they deserve the best."

While Bonds and Svete are the only players on the current roster who played in the win over Ohio State in 2012, several Gators received postseason experience a year ago when Florida made its WNIT run.

Florida won games at Florida International, Winthrop, Charlotte and James Madison before falling at Drexel a game short of reaching the WNIT championship game.

Butler wants the Gators to draw on that experience in hopes of making a potential run in the NCAA Tournament. An early obstacle would be a potential game against host Penn State in Tuesday's second round should the Gators beat Dayton.

"Our team has a really good idea of how to be successful in the postseason, although the NCAA Tournament is new because we have such a big load of sophomores and our one freshman,'' Butler said. "The game plan, blueprint is the same: you’ve got to have quick middle transitions, you’ve got to be taking great care of your body, have tremendous focus and you’ve got to be playing your best basketball right now.

"I think this team’s hunger is going to overshadow any shakiness or lack of focus that could enter the picture."

 

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