March 20, 2009
(AP) - A late-season swoon didn't cost Florida a spot in the NCAA tournament. It just made the Gators' road a whole lot tougher.
They're the lowest seed of any ranked team in the field at No. 8 in the Trenton Regional, likely facing a road game against the nation's best team in the next round if they can open with a win over ninth-seeded Temple on Sunday.
"Seeding doesn't matter at this point," second-year Florida coach Amanda Butler said. "All that matters is that we have to beat Temple and move on to our next opponent."
That next opponent would probably be top-ranked Connecticut, which is 33-0 and won all of its games by double digits. The site of that game would be the Huskies' home court in Storrs, where the 22nd-ranked Gators will make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006 on Saturday.
"We're only taking it one game at a time," Gators senior guard Sha Brooks said. "Temple is the team we need to beat right now. You can't look past a team because, once you do that, then you get beat and don't move on. We've just got to focus on beating Temple right now."
Florida (23-7) has only beaten one team in its last six games and that opponent was South Carolina, which finished with the worst overall record in the SEC. The slump, prior to which the Gators were ranked as high as ninth, includes a 71-67 loss to Tennessee in the SEC tournament quarterfinals March 6.
Temple (21-9) closed the season in much different fashion, winning 10 of its final 12 games.
Though the Owls can't afford to look past the Gators, it might be difficult for coach Tonya Cardoza not to think about what looms in the second round. She spent 14 years as a UConn assistant under coach Geno Auriemma before taking over at Temple this season.
"I have so many friends in Storrs," Cardoza said. "Right now, it's all about Florida."
One of the biggest challenges Cardoza's team faces Saturday will be slowing down Brooks, who was second in the SEC with 16.6 points per game and tied for third with 4.7 assists.
She scored at least 22 points in six of her final nine games, but it may be more important to Florida for Brooks to get others involved and limit her mistakes. She had eight assists and three turnovers in the Gators' lone win in their past six games, compared to averages of 3.6 assists and 6.4 turnovers in the five losses.
Brooks is complemented by fellow All-SEC first teamer Marshae Dotson, a senior forward who averages 13.7 points and a team-leading 7.0 rebounds.
Temple relies on a more balanced offense, with Shenita Landry, LaKeisha Eaddy, Shaqwedia Wallace and Shanea Cotton averaging more than 10.0 points.
None of them, though, scored in double figures in a 73-50 loss to Charlotte in the Atlantic 10 tournament semifinals.
Landry is a senior forward who averages team highs of 12.1 points and 8.9 rebounds. Temple was 2-5 when she failed to score at least eight points, compared to 19-4 when she did.
The Owls are appearing in the NCAA tournament for the sixth consecutive year but have never been past the second round in seven all-time trips.
These teams met in five straight seasons before this one, with Florida winning four. The most recent meeting saw Brooks score 23 points in the Gators' 68-54 victory Jan. 5, 2008.