The (1) Florida Gators (33-2) pulled away in the second half to escape the (16) Albany Great Danes (19-15) with a 67-55 victory in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament at the Amyway Center in Orlando, FL. After the game, head coach Billy Donovan and some players met with the media to discuss the tough win.
WHAT WAS THAT?
For a team that has put together its share of blowouts this season, Florida being tied at 39 with Albany in the second half and only defeating a 15-loss team out of the America East by 12 points was understandably deflating. So one cannot blame the Gators for feeling a bit down in the locker room after the game, nor Donovan for being frustrated with UF’s overall performance.
“I’m a little bit baffled with our team right now,” he told the TBS sideline reporter before leaving the court for his post-game press conference.
“I was a little bit disappointed with our defense in the first half. I didn’t think we defended like we normally did,” he said in the media availability. “I thought in the second half we did a much, much better job in that area.”
The Great Danes hit 10 of their first 15 shots but only connected on nine of their last 31 attempts from the field. Nevertheless, the Gators only outscored the underdogs by six points in each half.
Many will chalk up Florida’s struggles to not being “up for the game,” thinking it could handle a 16-seed while playing a second-round game just over 100 miles from its home court. Donovan hopes that is not the case.
“I take that very, very seriously because I feel as a head coach it’s my job to get them ready,” he said. “Now, it was good enough to win but is it good enough to play against a team like Pittsburgh? Probably not. But I’m proud of our guys because, one, they found a way to win when they didn’t play their best, and you know what, they’ve always been really good at being able to learn valuable lessons in a lot of ways. “
Donovan said he saw no indication that the Gators would struggle in such a way but noted that his squad was simply “not a good defensive team” on Thursday.
“The most important thing here is survive and advance, and we advanced,” he noted.
“I’ve always said this: Our margin for error as a team is not great. So when you see what you see today, we were able to overcome it and win the game, but we were not the same defensive team I think that we’ve been in the past. We really weren’t. … I don’t know what it necessarily could be.
“We worked really, really hard. They practiced well on Tuesday. I thought we practiced well [Wednesday]. We seemed to be in a good place, pretty focused, and sometimes you don’t get the performance that you want. So, we’ll have to play a lot better.”
Senior center Patric Young‘s sentiments echoed those of his coach.
“It’s a blessing we get the opportunity to play another 40 minutes of basketball, but Coach Donovan was saying to us after the game, this isn’t going to be enough to keep our season going. We just looked at each other and said, ‘We know that there’s more inside of us, more that we need to give, that we didn’t have our style of play for 40 minutes.’ We didn’t sustain that, and we’re going to have to do that if we’re going to hopefully make it on to the Sweet 16, because Pittsburgh, they played exceptionally well today. Hopefully we can come in the next game with a better mindset, better focus.”
Florida’s reserve point guard and forward matched its starters point-for-point on Wednesday with freshman Kasey Hill and redshirt sophomore Dorian Finney-Smith combining to score 26, the same as seniors Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather.
Hill gave the Gators a great spark in the second half, scoring eight points – including four-straight as part of a 12-2 run that helped UF jump out to a double-digit lead – in the latter 20 minutes despite supposedly being questionable for the contest when it was discovered Wednesday that he was dealing with turf toe.
“It was kind of a weird thing,” explained Donovan. “Someone kind of stepped on the back of his foot and his toe kind of, I guess, went into the floor, and I had to pull him out of practice, and the trainer didn’t think it was anything. And I think the more they looked at him, they thought it was a turf toe and that those things could take some time to heal, and we probably didn’t know coming out of practice if he would play [Thursday].
“I think this morning he felt [better]. They taped him up, they gave some support, he felt good, he went through shoot-around. He was out there during shoot around. He was moving well. I don’t know how much pain he was in. He never really said anything to me about it. I didn’t know what I would get out of him, but I thought we got some very, very good minutes from him.”
Hill said after the game that he never doubted his ability to play on Thursday, which was good news for Florida considering he posted just his third double-digit scoring game of the season and first since Nov. 16, 2013 in a start against Arkansas Little-Rockf.
“It’s always huge,” said senior center Patric Young while praising the Gators’ bench. “It’s our motto. Coach Donovan says it all the time. It’s strength in numbers. So when guys, the starters, are out there on the court, just give it your all, play hard, push yourself to fatigue because we’ve got not much of a drop-off at all coming off the bench.”
BLAST FROM THE PAST
To Donovan, Florida’s struggle with Albany on Thursday brought back memories of another extremely talented team that was dealt a tough hand in its first game but eventually pulled out a victory and used it as both a lesson and motivation to work harder and harder as the tournament progressed.
Fourteen years ago, five-seed UF inched past 12-seed Butler 69-68 in its first game but went on to trash four-seed Illinois 93-76, upend one-seed Duke 87-78, take down three-seed Oklahoma State 77-65 and defeat eight-seed 71-59 on the way to an appearance in the title game.
Though Donovan certainly hopes the end result is different (Florida lost to Michigan State in the final), he does believe the Gators can take a similar path to the Promised Land if it can build on its mistakes from Thursday.
“In 2000 we were dead in the water in a lot of ways against Butler, and it obviously was a couple free throws missed, [Teddy] Dupay comes down the floor, throws it to [Mike] Miller, he made a runner and we advanced.
“Through that shot and that play, we had a chance to play for it all that year, and my point was that you can’t really take anything for granted – a possession, a free throw, nothing – because sometimes a play here or there can be really, really altering in a lot of ways of you moving on.
“Sometimes when you get to that place – now, that’s probably not the same case with this team – but that team back then was like, ‘Wow, this almost ended,’ and it actually created a little bit more energy for our team the rest of the tournament.
“And the thing I was trying to explain to those guys is that you’ve got to be able to take game to game and you’ve got to be able to put it behind you, get ready and move on to the next one. We’re basically going to play in less than 48 hours.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Florida improved to 7-0 as the overall No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament play and 15-5 all-time when playing its first game in the event.
» The Gators extended their program-record winning streak to 27 games with victories in 32 of their last 33 contests.
» Florida is now 6-0 in neutral-site games this season.
» Donovan won his 448th game at UF, moving him into a tie with Dale Brown (LSU) for second-most in league history. He is 377 wins behind Adolph Rupp (Kentucky, 875).
» The Gators’ senior class won its 117th game, tying it with the 2009 class (Walter Hodge) for most in school history.
» Should Florida go on to win the national championship, the Gators would be the first title-winner since 2003 (second since 1997) to capture the crown after winning its first game of the tournament by 12 points or fewer.
» UF is the 21st one-seed in the history of the tournament to win its first game by 12 points or fewer. None of the previous 20 went on to win the national championship.
» Donovan on the pro-Florida crowd in Orlando: “It’s been great. Even going back to the regular season home games, some of the environments have just been special. I thought we had a great showing in Atlanta for the SEC Championship. Game was great. Being here in Orlando, I think another great turnout, and I know our guys really, really appreciate that.”
» Young on whether he was bothered that the score was tied at 39 in the second half: “If I’m angry then I’m living in the past because those points are on the board already [and] there’s nothing I can do about that. Just try and get our team just to get a different mindset, try and lead us, try and be more vocal, just as a whole try and get each guy to give more, give more percent, one more percent can make a huge difference for us. And I think we were able to do that, make some plays around there. Kasey brought us a lot of good energy, Scotty did a good job keeping up going, Casey Prather, as well. My mind was just keeping on moving forward, moving to the next play.”
ESPN: GATORS HAVE NO REASON TO WORRY
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?
Albany head coach Will Brown has obviously proven to have a good basketball mind, but he is also a bit of a quote machine and delivered these gems Thursday night after his team’s hard-fought loss to Florida.
» On trying to defeat, not just hang with, the Gators: “We came here to win. People think that’s coach talk. We spent a lot of time coming up with a game plan. … If we didn’t come here to win, we should have got on that plane in Dayton and went right back to Albany. A 16 is going to beat a 1 at some point, and we wanted to be that team.”
» On how talented UF is overall: “If there is a better team in the country, let me know. When a team runs through the SEC, whether people think it’s up, down or just okay, when you go undefeated in the SEC, that’s impressive. I’m not sure they’ve lost a game this year when they’ve had their full line up in place, so I’m not sure how you can question them.”
» On Young and his physicality: “You see the size of Patric Young? If he couldn’t make it in the NBA, he’s going to have a shot in the NFL. If he doesn’t go to the NFL, he’ll be in the WWE; if he doesn’t go to the WWE, maybe UFC. I mean, that guy is enormous. DJ [Evans] comes up to his kneecap. He’s huge and that’s the tough part. I’m asking my bigs to really battle and grind. John Puk said, ‘Coach, can’t move him.’ I’m like, ‘Well, try.’”
» On his evaluation of Florida-Pittsburgh after playing both teams and losing to each by 12 points: “Jamie Dixon is a good friend of mine, and I’ll tell you, I think that game, if Pitt handles Florida’s pressure and it becomes a half-court game, that could be the most physical game you’ll see in the NCAA Tournament this year. I think whoever can score the ball easiest in that game is going to win, and I think Florida’s pressure allows them to get some cheap turnovers which will translate into some easy baskets. I think Pitt is really good. I think Jaime is one of the best coaches in the country. I think Florida is playing [like] the best in the country right now, and you’re talking about a one, and Pitt is a nine – a 1-9 game? … This is going to be a great game, I think, a lot closer than many people think.”
» On how talented Frazier is as a three-point shooter: “We had all sorts of names for him: Ray Allen, Jesus Shuttlesworth. He has the smoothest stroke since Ray Allen. We were determined not to let him get a free look. Unbelievable shooter, arguably as good of a shooter as you’ll find in college basketball. We wanted to force them to beat us with twos. We didn’t want to give them as many dunks as we did, but we had to give up something. We were not going to let Frazier beat us. … Frazier, he might be the best shooter in all of college basketball.”