Gators face Temple in NCAA tourney

Hard work and determination was rewarded Monday when Amanda Butler and the Florida Gators were awarded a number eight seed as an at-large selection for the 2009 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament. The Gators (23-7) will face ninth-seeded Temple (21-9) Sunday at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut, the home court of top seeded UConn (33-0).

The winner of the Florida-Temple game will face the winner of undefeated UConn and Vermont (21-11) on Tuesday.

This is Florida’s 12th NCAA berth in school history and the first in Butler’s three years on the job. Butler’s first two Florida teams went to the Women’s NIT.

The last time the Gators went to the NCAA was 2006 when they lost to New Mexico in the first round. Florida is 9-11 all-time in NCAA Tournament games.

Butler obviously was pleased that her team was rewarded for an outstanding season by making it into the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s tremendous,” she said. “To have a chance to sit here not wondering if you’re going to be in or not, but knowing that you’re going to be in the tournament and just waiting to find out who you’re going to play and where you’re going to play is exciting. It speaks a lot to how far this program has come in such a short period of time. I have to give credit to this group of young women for how hard they have worked.”

The eighth seed means the Gators will likely have to face a UConn team that is a prohibitive favorite to go 6-0 in the NCAA Touranment to complete an undefeated season. UConn is going for its sixth national championship under Geno Auriemma, who has a 684-122 career record.

Where the Gators are seeded is the least of Butler’s concerns.

“Seeding doesn’t matter at this point,” she said. “All that matters is that we have to beat Temple and move on to our next opponent.”

Temple of the Atlantic 10 Conference is a familiar opponent for Butler. Prior to coming to Florida, Butler was the head coach at Charlotte of the A-10, plus the Gators faced Temple last season.

“We played them last year at their place and it’s a team with a lot of familiar names and faces,” Butler said. “They have a first year coach in Tonya Cardoza, who has done a phenomenal job. They are obviously a very well coached team with a lot of experienced players. I got to see a little bit of their game against Charlotte in the conference tournament this year. They are a very physical team and that’s the way Temple has always played.”

The Gators are one of seven Southeastern Conference teams selected into the NCAA field. While the SEC men’s teams received only three NCAA bids after a season that was considered one of the weakest in recent history, SEC women’s basketball is perceived to be as strong as ever even if defending national champion Tennessee (22-10) struggled through a rebuilding season.

In addition to Florida and Tennessee, Vanderbilt, LSU, Auburn, Georgia and Mississippi State made it into the NCAA Tournament. Butler wasn’t the least bit surprised that seven teams from the league got in.

“No one in our league is surprised at that. All the talk going into this season was that the SEC was going to be down this year, but you look at these teams and you can’t find any weakness in any of the 12 teams night in and night out,” Butler said. “This is the best league in the country every single year. I think that’s true and I think you see that by the SEC getting seven teams in the tournament.”

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.