The question is this: Does a week off do a basketball team good? Florida’s Amanda Butler thinks so.
More time to regroup. More time to prepare.
“It allows us to give them some rest, which is good and it allows us to get on the practice floor much like we did over Christmas break, which allowed us from a confidence standpoint to really turn the corner when we won those seven games in a row,” Butler said. “It had everything to do with their time on the practice court and their dedication on the practice court and willingness to be in the gym extra hours. It gives us that opportunity to watch film and break ourselves down a little bit more and figure out what to improve on a little bit more before we go to Arkansas. This team really responds to those opportunities. From a coaching standpoint, that’s a great thing.”
The Gators, who face Arkansas today at 3 p.m., have not played since an 80-65 victory over Alabama on Jan. 13. UF was helped by 6-foot-3 junior Aneika Henry, who tallied 14 points on 7 of 11 shooting during Florida’s first conference win, a potential blueprint for further progress.
“Aneika’s development has been very rapid,” Butler said. “She’s spent a lot of time watching film, a lot of time outside of practice working on her individual skills. Aneika’s a kid who started basketball a later in life than most kids at this level of Division I do. But she’s incredibly gifted from a physical standpoint and she’s very bright. She wants to learn. She wants to get better, so the combination of having those characteristics and having someone like coach (Susie) Gardner as a post coach is a great combination and that is where the responsibility and credit lies in terms of how quickly she’ll come along and how far she’ll go.”
The next step starts between the ears. It now appears Henry (6.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg) believes she can become a dominant post player.
“I don’t think Aneika came here thinking that that’s what she was,” Butler said. “I think she’s starting to realize that.”
One of Henry’s weaknesses is free throw shooting — she converts just 25 percent (3-for-12) from the line — but her teammates aren’t always accurate, either. The past two games UF has made 55.8 percent of its freebies.
“I think this is something that’s a little speed bump,” Butler said. “We’re a great shooting team. Free-throw shooting was strength for us up until the last two ball games. I think it’s a little mental thing we’re going through, and I think the (extra) practice gives our kids an opportunity to get to the free throw line and get reps in and I think it will correct itself.”
However, Arkansas’ immediate problems appear to be more significant. The Razorbacks lost their best player, Lauren Ervin, when the senior center sustained a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 10 against LSU, a loss that led to a 1-2 conference start.
The Gators know what to expect with Ervin, but without her, the Lady Razorbacks (16-2) are a work in progress.
“It is a little bit difficult (to prepare),” Butler said. “Thankfully, though, they played Ole Miss and LSU and then they played Alabama (Thursday night). It is more of a challenge for us because we did have all this tape up until the Ole Miss game and certain ideas of what we should do. Now maybe they don’t hold true quite as much.”
Gardner’s experience will help. Butler’s top assistant spent four seasons as the head coach in Fayetteville before joining Butler this spring.
“I’m sure there will be a little more stress (for her) than there was at Kentucky or against Alabama,” Butler said. “The kids that are there are ones that she recruited. There are a lot of people in her life that are special in Arkansas. At the same time, it’s a business trip. She’s a professional, and more than anything she wants to win. I don’t think any of those things on the outside will impact anything in a negative way. We’ll be ready.”
Florida (12-5) appears to be road tested. The Gators did not play particularly well at Kentucky last week, but still had a chance to win before falling 60-58.
“I can definitely see the growth in our confidence from the beginning of the season until now,” Butler said. “I think the Kentucky game, in November, if things had not gone our way at the five or six-minute mark, we would have thought we were not going to win. When we were in Lexington, there was never a doubt. We weren’t sure how. But they still believed it was going to happen. That was significant for us.”
This afternoon’s game will be aired by WRUF-AM 850 and Sun Sports.