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Florida Gators women in unusual position as basketball favorites against Tennessee

GAINESVILLE — Ask Florida women's basketball coach Amanda Butler about the odd role reversal in today's home game against Tennessee and she can't help but laugh.

"From a historical standpoint, it does seem a bit odd," she said.

Tennessee is 37-2 all time against the Gators, but today, Florida has much more on its side in this usually lopsided fight.

No. 11 Florida is the higher-ranked team and has more wins (21-2, 7-1 SEC). The Gators have the veteran-laden team, starting three juniors and two seniors. The No. 12 Vols (17-5, 6-2) have seven freshmen, three sophomores and a junior.

On paper, Florida would seem the favorite. And though the Gators are clearly on the rise, it's the Vols who still carry the legendary status.

"This is going to be a big game for us," senior guard Sha Brooks said. "It's still Tennessee. They are a great team. You can't help but to give it your all when you play against them."

Vols coach Pat Summitt just won her NCAA-record 1,000th game — in the midst of a rebuilding year.

"It's the youngest team we've brought in and had to try to pull together," Summitt said. "We've not played this many freshmen before. And with that comes a lot of teaching and some growing pains as well."

The Vols are the defending national champions, and Summitt has eight national titles. Florida has none. But Summitt said she won't bring her team in unprepared.

"Amanda's done a great job," Summitt said. "Just looking at their numbers and how they're playing, clearly she's got her team playing great basketball, just their toughness, how they come at people. Everyone's talking about their aggressiveness offensively and defensively. They're certainly playing well together from everything that I've heard."

Florida believes it's ready to play with the Vols. The Gators have won eight of their past nine games and are 12-0 at home. Florida is tied with Auburn atop the league standings; the Vols are tied for third. So what does this change mean for the teams?

"It's about time," UF senior forward Marshae Dotson said. "Someone different (leading the league). Now we've got to continue to stay focused, go hard in practice and hopefully it'll show up (today). … This will definitely be a big game for us."

Florida has defeated the Vols at home once, in 1997, and won most recently in Knoxville in 2006. The past three Vols victories have been by an average of 26.7 points.

By Friday afternoon, reserved tickets were sold out, and Florida athletic officials were anticipating a much larger turnout than usual. A former Florida player, Butler said she's excited — for her team — about the possibility of playing in a packed O'Connell Center.

"I hope so, for them, that we do have a full house and that there's a whole lot of blue in that audience and they really get to feel the full support of Gator nation, because Tennessee really is a fantastic team and program and they are very well-supported.

"We want to make sure that when the orange rolls into the building, they feel all of the blue," Butler added, referring to the Vols' large traveling contingent. "I think that's going to be very important. But I think it is going to be a big day for our team, and I think they will really be ready."

Fast facts

Women: No. 11 UF vs. No. 12 Tennessee

When/where: 5 p.m.; O'Connell Center, Gainesville

TV: ESPN2

Florida Gators women in unusual position as basketball favorites against Tennessee 02/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 7, 2009 8:04pm]
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