Just over 24 hours before the (3) Florida Gators are set to take the court in Austin, TX to take on the (14) Northwestern State Demons in the second round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament, head coach Billy Donovan and his three senior starters met with the media to discuss the season as a whole and the upcoming game.
AFTER CONSECUTIVE ELITE EIGHTS: TITLE OR BUST
Now that the Gators are back in the NCAA Tournament, attention has turned to its inability to get past the Elite Eight in consecutive tournaments. Donovan said on Thursday that Florida should not be concerned about what has happened in the past because Friday starts an entirely new journey for the Gators.
“This event’s like the lottery, you got to be in it to win it. And that’s what makes it so special is it’s so wide open and anybody can beat anybody,” he said. “I think our guys are excited. Listen, if you’re not excited to play this time of year, you shouldn’t be out there right now. This is what college basketball is all about right now.”
Senior guard Kenny Boynton, senior forward Erik Murphy and redshirt senior G Mike Rosario all agreed on Thursday that Florida is not concerned about how the last two seasons came to a conclusion.
“I would say we’re a veteran team, last year was last year,” Boynton said. “We can’t dwell on the past. But right now it’s a new season. We learned from our mistakes from last year. We’re ready to make a run in the tournament.”
“Those things are in the past,” Murphy agreed. “But we have worked to fix whatever may have caused that. We’re just focused on Northwestern State right now. We got to come out and be ready to play.”
“We can’t dwell on the past,” Rosario concurred. “That’s something that coach teaches us every day, is just move on to the next thing that’s ahead of us. So I feel like with this season we have been in every position. I feel like being in those situations has paid off.”
Boynton went on to explain that the Gators – especially the three-person senior class – are focused on one thing and one thing only this time around.
“Our main thing is winning,” he said. “We want to go out as winners. Our goal is to get to the national championship and win it. And nothing less than that.”
Read the rest of what Donovan and the seniors had to say on Thursday…
CONTINUED CLOSE-GAME FAILURES
Though the Elite Eight failures were certainly covered Thursday, Donovan and his players were all still asked about the trendy topic of the season – Florida being 0-6 in games decided by single digits over the course of the 2012-13 campaign.
Donovan, when asked if there was an explanation for that or whether or not he is worried about the Gators’ ability to win close games:
”I don’t know if we are or we’re not. I think a lot of times it’s all how you want to look at things. Because we have beaten teams on our schedule by 20 or more points twice as many times as we have lost close games. So I think in those situations, to me, the more experiences you have, the more opportunities I think you have to handle those better. And for us it’s been different stuff. That’s been probably the part that’s been somewhat baffling for me a little bit is it’s been different things. […]
“So I would say this: I have confidence in our guys. I think that they have confidence in themselves. When that situation comes up, we’ll see how you respond. I never ever think anything that happens in the past equals your future. Just because, if we made every game winning shot, doesn’t mean we’re going to make the next one. And if we miss every single game winning shot, doesn’t mean we’re going to miss the next one.
“We have got to I think our team has grown and matured and gotten better in some of those situations. I think we have made better decisions, I think we have executed better. We have not finished plays like we need to.
The players were asked if Florida not having a “go-to guy” in those situations is what has stunted their ability to win such close games.
“I wouldn’t say someone has to be a step-up guy. I would just say that as far as the level of concentration and being poised and in situations in the second half, I feel like we have to still come out aggressive in the second half and be in attack mode still,” Rosario said. “When we’re up 12 or whatever the case may be, or down 12, we still have to have that attack mindset. So I feel like with coach working on us in practice, on those situations, being in those situations, again, I feel like we did a great job of being on the edge and making sure that we make sure we take advantage of that situation.”
“Those things have happened. They’re in the past now. We worked to fix whatever caused that,” Murphy added. “I think as far as a go-to guy, I don’t think we need that. I think we need to do it together, which we’re capable of doing. That’s one thing that we try to do on offense and defense is play together as one. I think doing that, I don’t think you need one guy to come up and step up.”
SCOUTING THE OPPONENT: NORTHWESTERN STATE
Not only are the Demons the nation’s top-scoring team heading into the tournament, Northwestern State is a fast-paced team that runs the court and tries to get baskets in transition baskets. Asked what they thought about their second-round opponent after watching tape, Murphy and Rosario both had their own thoughts on Friday’s contest.
“Obviously they’re a high octane team offensively and they pressure the ball on defense,” Murphy said. “We just got to be ready for that. We’re just going to follow coach’s game plan and try to execute it as best we can.”
Rosario agreed. “I feel like the two main keys for us is handling the transition defense, getting back in transition and getting to our man. And just handling their pressure. Just taking care of the ball and not making costly casual turnovers,” he said. “I feel like if we do a great job in those areas, I feel like we’ll be fine.”
Donovan must also figure out a way to substitute players from his eight-man rotation against a team that rotates an entire five-person line at a time. He did not seem too concerned about that task.
“We’re going to sub based on fatigue, foul trouble, those kind of things. But I also do think matchups, if there is a matchup to their substitution that we need to change. But that wouldn’t be anything different than what we would normally do in a given game, so to speak,” he explained.
“That’s something that we’ll have to keep an eye on. But overall, going into the game, it’s not going to be a situation for us, we have got kind of our rotations and things that we need to do and some of those rotations are dictated and predicated on fatigue, foul trouble and matchups.”
Donovan has spent more time making sure the Gators realize that they must concentrate on the Demons before looking ahead to what may be in front of them.
“I think they also are mature enough and understand that the most important thing right now is what’s in front of us today because tomorrow in this tournament is never, ever guaranteed or promised,” he said. “I think that they realize what a challenge it will be [Friday] night playing against Northwestern State. But I think that that’s the goal in this tournament, to keep advancing.”
FLORIDA IS PASSIONATE FOR BASKETBALL, NOT JUST FOOTBALL
Donovan was asked on Thursday how he believed the interest in Gators basketball compared to the passion that the football program receives in Gainesville, FL. Here is what he had to say on the subject:
“This is the unique thing about Florida to me being here now 17 years. In the southeast there is nothing sport-wise that takes more precedent over football. There is a southeastern flavor for football that it is just there. I mean, I think it’s a long, rich standing tradition when you talk about Florida and Georgia and Alabama and Auburn and Tennessee and all the teams.
“The difference at Florida, in my opinion, is the University of Florida, to its fans, alumni and boosters, is bigger than any sports situation. And that’s the thing that makes Florida, I think, so unique is that people that are supporting Florida, when Florida’s playing, whether it be in volleyball, baseball, football, basketball, the university takes precedent over any sport. There’s a level of pride there in Florida, the Gator Nation, that thing. So I’ve never ever, since I’ve been there, ever looked at it football versus basketball or anything like that. I just looked at that I’m part of a great athletics program and we’re one sport and the goal is to have the best overall athletics department in the country. And you need a lot of sports to do well there.
“And that’s the one thing that’s been positive for me is I think sometimes, at least back when I got hired, people always wanted to create a divide between football and basketball and create animosity. And that couldn’t be further from the truth of what the environment is at Florida. Everybody supports each other, everybody helps each other. I’ve been at Florida with [Steve] Spurrier and around [Ron] Zook and Urban [Meyer] and now Will [Muschamp]. And I’ve had great relationships with all those guys. And that’s the one thing that I find enjoyable about Florida is the people that represent Florida, when Florida’s involved, there’s passion, regardless of what sport it is.”
GOOD RATES IF WANTING TO ATTEND THE GAMES
OGGOA has received some interesting data from TiqIQ on the ticket market for the games. TiqIQ has teamed up with Primesport, the official exchange of the tournament, for NCAA tournament tickets. With the regionals taking place in North Texas, it’s the Gators that barely have to travel at all once the tournament commences to punch their Final Four ticket. According to TiqIQ, fans of those teams that make it to the regional finals will get to take advantage of the least expensive Sweet 16 and Elite 8 tickets of any region. Average ticket prices for Florida’s second- and third-round games and a possible South Regional advance are:
Frank Erwin Center (Austin, Texas)
• Session 2: $93.83 (Florida)
• Session 3: $105.27
• Session 1: $148.40
• Session 2: $171.35
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Donovan on junior forward Will Yeguete being seriously injured for the second-straight year, coming back from the injury and returning to the court: “I’m happy for him. That’s a hard thing, because I was with him when we went through having a sit down and talking to him and he needed knee surgery. And that he probably wasn’t going to be able to play if he didn’t have knee surgery. Just going through what he went through – last year with his broken foot and missing this time – I mean he really, he cried about as hard as a kid I’ve ever seen cry before…because he wanted to play. The option was to wait and try to manage it, but it had gotten to such a problem with all the swelling and the bone chips in there that he couldn’t have done it. And we needed to do it immediately or he needed to wait until after the year was over with. [...]
“The one thing that was probably frustrating to him when he did come back during the SEC, the end of the schedule there, is that I think he put a lot of pressure on himself to perform at a level that he wasn’t capable of performing at because he was coming off that injury. I think there was part of him that felt like he was letting everybody down, because there is this big excitement about Will gets back, he’s cleared to play. And no one takes into consideration, well, you know what, he’s back, but he’s probably really not back to where he was.”
» Boynton on if Florida should be concerned about coming out of a weak SEC: “Honestly, not at all. We play teams in other conferences. Those teams, losing, I don’t think it has anything to do with us. I think our main focus should just be taking everything one [game] at a time, no matter who we play or what conference they’re in.”
» Boynton on how tough practice has been over the last four days: “I think that practice has been good. We had a good practice [Thursday]. It’s been intense. We have been going hard. So I think leading up to this game practices consecutively have been good.”
» Murphy on how tough practice has been over the last four days: “We always try to practice as hard as we can. We have had a really heightened focus level, I think, just coming down the stretch. I think that practice has been productive and we have all been practicing hard. It’s a new season, so we kind of had that just a little bit extra pop in practice just from that coming down the stretch here.”
» Rosario on how tough practice has been over the last four days: “I think the guys understand, at this point in time in March, it’s one and done. Right now, going into every practice that we have from this point on, I feel like everyone’s been on the edge. Everyone’s been focused on their job and that’s one thing that coach preaches to us every day is just do your job. I feel like all the players, the coaching staff, everyone with our program has been focused up to this point. So I feel like if we keep doing that good things will happen.”
» Boynton on if the team needs four or more players to score in double figures: “I think that with that, I think with our team, it’s just playing the right way. I think that if everybody has a mindset to make each other better and play the right way, everyone will be in double figures in the game. It will be a high scoring game for us. We worked on that in practice and we just got to go out and do it.”
» Rosario on if the team needs four or more players to score in double figures: “I feel like if our team takes advantage of the defensive end of how we take advantage of the offensive end, that creates offense for our team. And I feel like when everyone has the right mindset on the defensive end and everyone’s trying to be in the right spots at the right time on the defensive end, it creates offense for our team.”