Gators tip off season against Fairfield

The Gators play host to Fairfield on Nov. 9, when they officially launch their 2012-13 season — the program’s 39th year of varsity competition.

Tip-off from the Stephen C. O’Connell Center is set for 4 p.m. ET. The unusual start time for a non-doubleheader weekday game is because of the start of Florida’s homecoming festivities. The annual parade is scheduled to take place Friday afternoon and Gator Growl – the world’s largest student-run pep rally – begins next door inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at 7 p.m. Fans can show their Gator Growl ticket for free admission to the women’s hoops game.

“I want to see play consecutive hard 30-second possessions whether that’s offensively or defensively,” said UF head coach Amanda Butler, who enters her sixth year at the helm of her alma mater. “I’d like to see evidence of the work they’ve put in. They have worked exceptionally hard and now there can’t be any lulls. I’d like to see consistency and intensity from beginning to end and show progress from the two scrimmages we’ve played.”

A 2012 First Team All-Southeastern Conference performer, Jennifer George headlines a very young and inexperienced 2012-13 Florida women’s basketball team (ranked as the fifth-most inexperienced team in the country) that is coming off its fifth consecutive postseason berth.

George is the lone senior on the 12-player roster that features eight newcomers, including six freshmen. George, who led Florida in scoring (12.8 ppg) and rebounding (8.8 rpg) last year, will be joined on the court by junior guard Jaterra Bonds, who was the only Gator who played and started all 33 games a year ago when Florida compiled its third 20-win season in five years with coach Amanda Butler at the helm and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament where it bowed out to eventual national champion Baylor.

The Gators graduated five players from last year’s team, including 2012 Olympian Azania Stewart, who used her 6-foot-4 frame to rank third all-time among the program’s shot blockers.

While Florida will miss Stewart’s size inside, the Gators welcome 6-foot-7 transfer Vicky McIntyre to the paint to help George in the front court. Florida also welcomes the nation’s 20th-ranked signing class to campus, as the Gators will be young in 2012-13 but very talented.

Eight of the 12 players on the 2012-13 roster have never suited up as a Gator. Carlie Needles is one freshman who redshirted last year because of injury and never played a minute. There are four true freshmen – Chandler Cooper, Christin Mercer, January Miller and Sydney Moss – who comprise the nation’s 20th-ranked recruiting class, per ESPN-HoopGurlz. And there are two transfers: McIntyre, a junior from Oklahoma State who is eligible to play this year and Cassie Peoples, a redshirt freshman who will have to sit out the 2012-13 season per NCAA rules for transfers.

“I’m very excited to see how we look,” Butler shared. “There comes a point in your preseason when the only thing left to do is play a game against someone besides your scout team and I think we’re at that point. We need to be tested against a team that is prepared to play against us. We’re all really excited.”

The Gators will have 10 players available for the season after redshirt-freshman Vikta Dimaite tore her ACL and medial meniscus of her left knee during practice on Nov. 3 and will miss the season.

Fairfield returns eight letterwinners, as well as two starters, from last year’s team that boasted the nation’s fifth-ranked scoring defense last year, allowing just 52.0 points per game. Fairfield finished second in the final 2011-12 MAAC standings behind Marist.

Individually, then-sophomore Alexys Vazquez (sort of) led the country in three-point field goal percentage at 42.7 percent (61-143), but didn’t meet the minimum NCAA standards of 2.0 per game (Vazquez averaged 1.9 pg) and did not qualify for the final rankings as a result.

Both teams earned a trip to the postseason last year and both notched 20-win seasons, as Florida posted a 20-13 overall mark and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament where it lost to eventual champion Baylor. Fairfield logged a 24-9 record and ended its year in the WNIT first round to Drexel after falling to Marist in the MAAC Tournament championship game.

Florida has played 55 games over the last three seasons with outcomes decided by 10 points or less – that’s an AVERAGE of 18.3 games per season of thrillers. Both of Florida’s last two season-openers were decided by 10 points or less, as the Gators defeated UCF, 77-67, to start the 2010-11 campaign but lost to Michigan, 69-66, in last year’s tip-off.

Courtesy of UF Communications