Florida Gators men’s, women’s basketball both surprising, surging at just the right time

Don’t look now, but Florida Gators men’s basketball might be on the cusp of turning things around after a very difficult final year under Billy Donovan. Oh, and the Florida women’s basketball team? It’s in the process of what could potentially be the best season in program history.

Before the 2015-16 season began, new Gators coach Mike White was careful not to predict much success for his team, especially considering he’d only spent so much time with his players during offseason practices.

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Florida Gators women’s basketball enters AP Top 25 for first time since 2009

Florida Gators women’s basketball bounced back from its 76-70 loss to ranked Mississippi State in a major way, earning an upset win over Tennessee (74-66) on Thursday before throttling Ole Miss (85-65) on Sunday.

At 14-2 with victories over two top-ranked opponents this season, Florida on Monday reentered the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since 2009. The Gators checked in at No. 20, receiving 134 voting points over 18 ballots.

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Gators topple Lady Vols, winning (a big) one for absent coach Amanda Butler

Thursday night in Knoxville, Tennessee, was what athletic director Jeremy Foley and head coach Amanda Butler hope is the culmination of a strong belief the former had that the latter could turn around the Florida Gators women’s basketball program despite not showing much proof that such a change in fortunes was on the horizon.

It was unfortunate that neither was there to see it.

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FOUR BITS: Thompson, Butler, Pouncey, Bonner

1 » Florida Gators junior wide receiver Chris Thompson, who was excused from the team by head coach Jim McElwain while allegations of simple battery (dating violence) were flushed out, had the charge officially dropped by the state, according to Alachua County Court records. The Gainesville Sun‘s Robbie Andreu spoke with State Attorney Bill Cervone, who said the alleged victim – an ex-girlfriend of Thompson – did not wish to pursue charges. Even if she had, it would have been unlikely that Thompson would have been found guilty of doing anything wrong. “He was legally entitled to make what is called ‘defense of his property,’ which in this case was his phone,” Cervone told the paper. “That’s what he was doing, and the injuries that resulted were inconsequential.” It is unknown if or when Thompson will rejoin the Florida football team.

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Florida women’s basketball coach Amanda Butler gets two-year extension; report: assistants gone

Updated on Thursday at 4:45 p.m.

Florida Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley on Wednesday announced a two-year contract extension for women’s basketball coach Amanda Butler, keeping her with the program through the 2018-19 season.

Butler, who behind Carol Ross (1990-02) is the second-winningest and second-longest-tenured coach in program history, is just 153-112 (.577) at Florida, 56-68 (.447) in Southeastern Conference play over eight seasons. The Gators have never advanced past the second round of the NCAA Tournament under Butler.

“Clearly, the results of last season were not what anyone, including Coach Butler, had hoped. That said, I continue to strongly feel that Amanda is the right person to get Florida women’s basketball to be a contender in this league and nationally. She’s a Gator and will keep working tirelessly to elevate this program,” said Foley in a release.

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While team falters, Florida making commitment to O’Connell Center, basketball facilities

Florida Gators basketball (12-11, 5-5 SEC) is on pace for its worst season under head coach Billy Donovan since his first two with the program. It should be no surprise, however, that with Donovan’s track record of immense success and the basketball program’s still-growing national prestige, the Gators continue to invest in the future.

Announced in June with renovations expected to begin in March 2015, the 35-year-old Stephen C. O’Connell Center is set to undergo a massive renovation that will include a “prominent main entrance,” club seating, permanent chair backs, a “center-hung, high-definition video board” with a sound system, concourses and concession stands, offices and locker rooms, and advanced “mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.”

Initially projected to cost $45 million, $10 million of which would be contributed by the University of Florida, the updated price tag is $60 million, athletic director Jeremy Foley said on Monday. UF and the University Athletic Association have contributed with the rest of the $60 million committed via donations.

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Florida women’s basketball player Antoinette Bannister charged with credit card theft and fraud

Antoinette Bannister, a junior guard on the Florida Gators women’s basketball team, was arrested on Friday and charged with theft and fraud after taking a teammate’s credit card and using it at multiple locations throughout Gainesville, Florida.

According to The Gainesville Sun’s Cindy Swirko, the card Bannister stole on Jan. 11 belonged to redshirt junior center Viktorija Dimaite.

Bannister, who used the card at five separate locations and even signed her own name on shopping receipts, admitted to police on Friday that she shopped with the card but noted that she found it outside the Florida Basketball Practice Complex and not inside the women’s locker room of the facility as the police report originally stated.

The Independent Florida Alligator‘s Graham Hall reported early Sunday that Bannister has been kicked off the women’s basketball team. OnlyGators.com confirmed Bannister’s status Sunday evening. Her name remains present on Florida’s roster, however.

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Top 14 for 2014: Florida Gators best moments of the year

For as bad as things went for the Florida Gators at times in 2014 (see the Not Top 14 for 2014), there were more than a fair share of bright spots. From breathtaking moments and game-winning plays to winning championships and setting records, the Gators had plenty to be proud of in 2014. Check out OnlyGators.com‘s Top 14 for 2014.

14 » RARE WOMEN’S BASKETBALL UPSET

Gators women’s basketball has struggled to find relevancy but there was no question Florida had its engines running on Jan. 5 when it pulled off one of the biggest victories in program history, an 83-73 upset win over No. 6 Kentucky. The win broke a six-game losing streak for UF against UK and was head coach Amanda Butler’s first win over a top-10 ranked opponent after going 0-17 previously in such games. Florida had lost 19-straight regular-season games against top 10-ranked opponents, earning its last victory to such a team in Feb. 2006.

13 » TEBOW TIME ALL THE TIME

Former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow had a life-changing 2014 after agreeing to sign a long-term broadcasting deal with ESPN. Tebow was featured on the network’s national title broadcast that season and was later assigned to the SEC Network where he served as one of three analysts for the channel’s Saturday pre-game show, SEC Nation. Tebow has drawn rave reviews throughout 2014 for his passionate opinions and consistent on-air knowledge. He also proved to be unbiased, lambasting the leadership on Florida’s offense when the team struggled during the middle of the season. One Tebow moment – a spot-on impersonation of former Gators head coach Steve Spurrier – was OnlyGators.com’s most-watched Vine with 1.3 million loops as of press time.

Tebow also closed 2014 with a brilliant on-air prediction, which you can check out below.

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