A familiar face returns to the Queen City as the Charlotte 49ers (26-5) host the Florida Gators (20-14) in Wednesday’s WNIT Sweet 16 action. Amanda Butler, who guided the team to back-to-back WNIT second round appearances in both of her seasons here (2005-07), returns to Halton Arena for the second time since departing for Gainesville and faces Charlotte for the fourth time overall as Florida coach.
So far, Butler is 2-1 against her former squad. Florida defeated Charlotte, 82-73 on November 26, 2011 at the Courtyard LaGuardia Turkey Classic on Long Island and 76-70 in the Preseason WNIT on November 15, 2010; however, the Niners dealt her a 81-77 overtime loss in–you guessed it–the WNIT on March 24, 2011. That date was significant for another reason besides the fact that it was Butler’s first time back in Halton since becoming Florida’s head coach: it was the last home game for Karen Aston, her successor.
In Monday’s second round at Winthrop, the Gators flexed their muscle en route to an 85-53 victory in Rock Hill. January Miller led the way with 16 points off the bench (behind 3-5 shooting from beyond the arc); Kayla Lewis chipped in 15 while team leading scorer Jaterra Bonds “only” scored 12. They didn’t need Bonds on this night, though.
Besides Bonds (12.9 ppg), the Gators have some options in Sydney Moss (11.2 ppg) and Jennifer George (11.1). Miller is a very capable shooter from distance (25 of 66, 37.9%)–as are Lily Svete (49-118, 41.5%) and Carlie Needles (58-169; 34.3%)–and can’t be allowed to get hot; George (7.9) and Moss (6.6) get it done on the boards.
This game could definitely be won if the Niners can defend the perimeter, force the Gators to work it in the paint (letting Jenn Hailey and Amanda Dowe take away inside chances), get it inside on their own and win the rebounding battles, something that hurt them a little in the second half against Davidson on Sunday. While Florida has several shooters that can light it up from the outside consistently, Charlotte only has one (Hillary Sigmon). But the Niners have size and strength inside (led by two top-notch rebounders) and they’ll need to capitalize on that and erase the Gators’ perimeter opportunities in order to come away with a win.
The winner of this one takes on the winner of Fordham/James Madison in the quarterfinals this weekend. The Rams were the only team that stood in the way of an undefeated conference season for the Niners as they won 59-56 at Halton on January 13. The Dukes and Niners haven’t faced each other since March 17, 2006 (which just so happened to be Butler’s first season in Charlotte), a 70-62 win in–you guessed it again–the WNIT.