Head coach Billy Donovan and a number of his players met with media following the No. 7-seed Florida Gators impressive 71-45 victory over the Virginia Cavaliers action on Friday. With the second-round victory, Florida will advance to third-round action on Sunday for a chance to earn a Sweet 16 berth in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
THIRD-ROUND OPPONENT: NORFOLK STATE
No. 15-seed Norfolk State defeated No. 2-seed Missouri in the bottom of the West Region bracket and will advance to take on UF on Sunday at a to-be-determined time. Below is a video of the team celebrating their upset victory in the locker room.
PRATHER STEPS IT UP AT THE RIGHT TIME
Faced with one of their toughest defensive challenges of the season, Florida was confident in their ability to score but wanted to make sure they could equal Virginia on the other end of the court. Donovan conceded after the game that sophomore forward Will Yeguete, who is out for the season with a broken foot, would have been the Gators’ best bet at stopping Cavaliers F Mike Scott. However, he thought sophomore guard/forward Casey Prather might do well in his stead.
He was right.
Prather held Scott to 15 points and six rebounds while also performing well on the offensive end, scoring a team- and career-high 14 points to go along with four boards. It was the best game of his career in a Florida uniform, something that made Donovan smile a bit wider after the contest.
“Very happy for Casey because he’s a guy I get a chance to be around every single day and he has the same attitude,” he said. “I’ve been around so many young players where they don’t get a chance to play or it’s not going well for them and they pout and they sulk and they have no resiliency to come back the next day and work. [...] I’m just personally very happy for him because he really has stayed the course as a player and has tried to figure out just how to get better and how to improve. He obviously gave us a huge lift.”
Even Prather did not expect to play as well as he did but agreed that all of the extra work he did in practice is what has made the difference. “I just kept working at it in practice and in individual instruction with the coaches,” he said. “Coach D just told me to stay the course and my turn will come and that it will work out for me.” Perhaps best of all for the Gators, he is willing to do the exact same things Yeguete had been doing for Florida like working hard on the defensive end, rebounding and trying to grab steals.
“I definitely knew he was capable of that. He does it every day in practice and gives us fits,” senior point guard Erving Walker said. “Tonight I was really happy for him. I think he played a great game and hope he can just continue to keep playing like that.”
Center Patric Young, Prather’s good friend and classmate, agrees. “If he can play like that and keep elevating his game, I think he can be the most talented player on this team. It’s just a matter of confidence,” he said. “He was feeling a lot of pressure to not turn the ball over. He felt like he had a laser over his head and, if he made a mistake, he was coming out of the game. He would have that mentality going into the game instead of focusing on just playing the game, running sets and making hustle plays.”
In order to stay on the court going forward, Prather has to continue to keep his turnovers down, which is the main reason Donovan had to keep placing him on the bench in the first place.
“Certainly I think an area of the game that he has really struggled with has been his turnovers,” Donovan said. “That’s been a real problem for him. Just trying to get him to play inside the framework of the game, sometimes he’s tried to make some things happen that aren’t there and sometimes he gets too passive. The thing that I really admire above anything else is just his perseverance every day.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Donovan on the number of missed threes in the first half: “Of the 15, I would say there was a good five or six that I would have liked to have seen us take back where we shot it a little too quickly. [...] it took our guys a little bit of time to figure out what we needed to do. I think we shot a couple too quick. When they were flying at our shooters, guys were open, but it was kind of like a semi-challenge shot. A lot of times those are the easiest players to go by because as they’re running at you and they’re trying to stop the three, they’re giving up penetration.”
» Walker on the team missing so many treys in the first half: “I really didn’t even notice it until we got in the locker room and coach said we were 1-15. We know we’re going to have shooting nights where the ball just doesn’t go in, but we were focused on defense because we know that can keep us in the games when shots aren’t falling.”
» Donovan said that he was pleased with how Florida adjusted in the second half and began penetrating more rather than just settling for long-range shots. He thinks that is an important lesson for the team going forward in the tournament.
» Donovan on if he’s ever had a player have a breakout game like Prather on such a high level: “The only guy I remember was in the National Championship game, Adrian Moss in the first half I think eh had like eight points. It was a huge lift off the bench for us. He picked up a couple charges, he had a couple tip-ins, made a couple shots around the basket. He gave us a huge boost with a couple guys in foul trouble in that game.”