UF women’s basketball coach Amanda Butler strung together one of her best regular seasons as a head coach last season.
Florida went 22-7 and averaged more than 77 points per game.
And then the Gators lost by 23 points in their first game of the SEC Tournament. And then they closed the season one game later with a two-point upset loss against Albany to open the NCAA Tournament.
When No. 20 Florida open its season against South Alabama at 5:30 p.m. Friday in Jacksonville, Butler and the Gators are hoping to prove their slide to end the season was a fluke.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“All we can do is focus on the things that we can control,” junior forward Haley Lorenzen said. “We’ve just pinpointed everything that we can. … There’s just a new type of intensity around this team this year.”
And with a short roster this year, the Gators are going to need all of the intensity they can get.
Florida will only field nine of its 12 players this season. Two of the three inactives are due to injury: Senior Simone Westbrook tore her ACL and freshman Sydney Morang is redshirting with a concussion. The third, junior Funda Nakkasoglu, has to sit out the season after transferring from Utah State.
It’s a situation Butler is all too familiar with. During the 2013-14 season, Butler ended the year with eight healthy eligible players. She was forced to get creative with her lineups
“The strength of that team — and they were a very, very strong team — was how tight-knit they were,” Butler said. “There was really this true, authentic acknowledgement of needing each other that I think you maybe don’t feel when you know that there’s some game that some players may or may not play in. … But there’s no question when you’ve got eight that can go, nine that can go, everybody’s going to play.”
The group will be led by its three leading scorers from last year: Senior Ronni Williams (11.1 points per game), sophomore Eleanna Christinaki (10.4 points) and Lorenzen (9.3 points).
A trio of freshmen guards in Delicia Washington, Sydney Searcey and Elif Portakal will also get early playing time while trying to fill the void left by Westbrook’s injury and five seniors graduating.
Forward Brooke Copeland, center Ty Fleming and guard Dyandria Anderson round out the team.
Florida will play its first 12 games away from Gainesville due to the $64.5-million renovation of the O’Connell Center before making its home debut against Southeastern Louisiana on Dec. 28.
The Gators also have eight regular-season games against current Top 25 opponents — six of which are part of their 16-game SEC slate.
“We don’t expect it to be a soft year by any means,” Butler said. “We just want to be the best Florida Gators we can be. We feel like if we can do that, regardless if it’s in conference or outside of conference, we’ve got a great chance to be successful.”