Florida women’s hoops hosts No.17 Georgia

Before the season started, the coach told us, but no one believed her. She said that Florida women’s basketball extended beyond its three marquee players, that there was more to the Gators than Marshae Dotson, Depree Bowden and Sha Brooks, the trio known as the big three.

It took a few months, but unfamiliar faces are starting to emerge as the Southeastern Conference season unspools. Every game, it seems, yields a different hero.

There’s Aneika Henry, the 6-3 junior center and first-year starter, who tallied 14 points against Alabama; and Jennifer Mossor, the reserve guard, who rung up a career-high 19 points at Arkansas.

Maybe Amanda Butler was right after all.

“One thing I talked about before the beginning of practice was that we were going to see performances from names that you may not have been familiar with,” Butler said. “There were going be surprises. But we weren’t going to be that surprised, because they are talented.

“Obviously, Aneika is physically very gifted and has put in a lot of hard work.  Jenn is a great passer, which is usually a reflection of a high basketball IQ. The bottom line, I think, is they just put in the work. They’ve been practicing very hard. They’ve been putting in the time in the gym.”

Others who have contributed pivotal points and rebounds off the bench are forward Sharielle Smith, who has rustled up double digit points or rebounds six of the last seven games; and guard Kim Critton, who had eight points against Arkansas and has palmed 24 offensive rebounds so far this season.

“We’ve got lot of different kids who are talented in different ways, maybe not the same way that Marshae, Sha and Depree are – the big three as people like to call them,” Butler said. “Kim Critton is a spark off the bench, because she can jump out of the gym and then grab a big play-making rebound. Aneika and Jenn, people coming off the bench, could be starters on a lot of teams.”

The Gators put together their best performance of the young SEC season last weekend, bludgeoning Arkansas 92-74, marking the first time since February of 2006 that they won back to back regular-season conference games.

“One of the objectives going into Arkansas was we wanted to make sure that our bench outplayed their bench,” Butler said. “And we got that and that was big for us. We wanted to make sure we imposed our style and our team responded to that challenge. We got it up and down the floor and made it an uptempo game. Arkansas is a little short on depth right now. Their bench isn’t quite as long as ours is. It’s always pleasing from a coaching standpoint to have an idea that you think is going to work and your team carries it out.”

Florida now stands 13-5 overall and 2-1 in the SEC, a startling accomplishment given that league coaches picked the Gators to finish 11th in the 12-team conference. So much for that preseason prediction.

“It’s great to be playing as well as we are right now,” Butler said. “Confidence is a huge factor in being successful, especially in SEC ballgames and especially when you have an opponent like Georgia up next, who is consistently one of the nation’s best.”

Florida has won 11 of 12 at the O’Connell Center, including a run of eight straight, but none of those foes compare to the 17th-ranked Bulldogs, who visit Gainesville Thursday.

“I think it’s going to be a great indication of where are,” Butler said. “I think every SEC matchup is. You can’t underestimate anyone in this league. Someone like Georgia with a coach like Andy Landers, who is every year one of the nation’s best and every year among the top ten with a player like a Tasha Humphrey, who’s one of the best in the country, it will be a great indicator for us and what the rest of our SEC season is going to look like.

“I think we’re ready. I think our kids are confident. We’ve also talked about not caring what the name is on the jersey. It’s more about us and how we’re going to execute our game plan. We’re talented enough to do that. If we play Florida basketball, we can make good things happen. It doesn’t make any difference who we’re playing.”

The 7 p.m. tip-off will provide a chance to reverse history. The Gators have lost seven straight games to Georgia and have lost 11 consecutive to ranked opponents, an unflattering trend that led to a loss of national prestige and collective respect, respect that Florida wants to recapture.

“The only way you do that is through your play,” Butler said. “If it’s extra motivation for your team to recall how they lost a ballgame last year, I don’t think the coaches will use that as much as the players who were here last year. I think it’s motivation enough that we’re playing Georgia this year with this opportunity on our home floor. You don’t have to go to last year’s results. That’s a big challenge.”

The game will be aired by WRUF-AM 850. Admission is $4 for adults, $2 for those 17-and-under. UF students are admitted free.