The three-seed Florida Gators (28-7) advanced to the Sweet 16 for the third-straight year and ninth time in team history with a 78-64 take down of the 11-seed Minnesota Golden Gophers (22-13) in 2013 NCAA Tournament action at the Erwin Center in Austin, TX. After the game, head coach Billy Donovan, senior forward Erik Murphy and redshirt senior guard Mike Rosario and met with the media to discuss what transpired on Sunday evening in the round of 32.
POST-GAME LOCKER ROOM CELEBRATION
Video above courtesy of GatorVision.tv
The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (26-10) defeated seven-seed San Diego State on Sunday to become the first 15-seed to advance to the Sweet 16 in NCAA Tournament history. Florida holds a 1-0 record all-time against Florida Gulf Coast, previously defeating the school located less than 300 miles south in 2008. It is also the first time in NCAA Tournament history that three schools from the state of Florida (the third being two-seed Miami) have advanced to the Sweet 16.
The showdown will commence on Friday, March 29 in Arlington, TX at 9:57 p.m. (EDT) and air live on TBS. Marv Albert (play-by-play), Steve Kerr (color commentator) and Craig Sager (sideline reporter) will be on the call for the contest.
Read the rest of the Florida-Minnesota post-game (and there’s plenty)…
Donovan on the game as a whole:
“I thought our guys came out and really played a terrific first half. Obviously had a nice lead and at least tried to talk at halftime about the fact that I think we all knew Minnesota is a prideful team. I know Tubby obviously very well [and knew] that their team would come out and respond. They did. And I think right about the 14-minute mark they had outscored us 13-4 and really they got themselves right back in the game. I don’t know what they cut it to, I think it was maybe seven. I give our guys a lot of credit in terms of battling and fighting off that run and making some plays, some key plays in key situations. I was really, really happy personally for Mike. Because I don’t think the last game for him was a game that he was probably too thrilled about. I give him a lot of credit for bouncing back and coming focused and ready to play today. And he was huge for us with the way he shot the ball. I think the same thing could be said for Erik. Erik got us off, too; those two guys in the first half really played exceptionally well. Erik, unfortunately, most of the second half had to battle foul trouble. But we weathered the storm and found a way to move on and I think that’s probably the most important thing right now, going forward.”
Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith:
“First, I just want to congratulate Florida. They did a good job. Every time we seemed to have an opportunity, they made a play or made a shot to shut us down. But I was proud of our kids, the way they came out in the second half and played a lot, gave it all they had, played with heart and with some real toughness.”
WEATHERING THE STORM
One of the Gators’ biggest problems this season has been dealing with adversity in the second-half. UF got another taste of that from the Gophers on Sunday after Minnesota cut its deficit from 21 to seven by opening the second half on a 19-5 scoring stretch.
The Gophers turned the tables by playing strong defense and going back to what got them this far – rebounding the basketball off of the offensive and defensive glass.
“We just played with more aggressiveness,” Minnesota F Trevor Mbakwe said after the game. “When we’re aggressive, we’re a lot better team. Sometimes [it takes] us being down a large amount or just being down at halftime for us to kind of pick it up. And by that time when you’re playing against better talents and better teams like Florida, it’s kind of hard when you put yourself in that position. But I think we just picked it up defensively, we pressed more and were able to get in their face and cause turnovers and get out in transition and that allowed us to get back in the game.”
This time, Florida was able to weather the storm and used an 11-2 run to get back its massive lead. The whole thing started with a big three-pointer from Rosario, who scored a career-high 25 points (at UF) in the contest and nailed 6-of-9 attempts from beyond the arc.
“He moves pretty good without the ball. He does a good job of spotting up and their team does a fantastic job of finding him open,” Smith said. “Again, I was impressed with his outside shooting. When you shoot 6 of-9, even if you’re by yourself, that’s still pretty impressive. And those were really tough shots because we had some momentum going, cut it from 21 to what, seven or eight? We were back in the ball game. Both those threes took a lot of wind out of our sail.”
The other three came from junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who ran the Gators’ offense to perfection and made up for three costly turnovers he committed early in the second half. Wilbekin was poised and aggressive, continued playing great defense and did not let the moment get the best of him.
“Scottie, I think, stepped up and you need someone to make a shot. I think that in some of those previous games we didn’t make a shot. Mike knocked down a shot. Scottie knocked down a three. [Will] Yeguete made a layup. Scottie drove a layup and got fouled. We got to the free throw line and we found a way to manufacture points. And then we found a way to get some stops,” Donovan said. “That was encouraging to see from the bench that, okay, here we go again, seven- or eight-point lead, we need to step up as a team right now and take this on. They did and I was encouraged by that.”
Florida had to put that run together without one of its best players as Murphy picked up two fouls early in the second half and was on the bench with four total. When he reentered the game, he picked up his fifth foul almost immediately and sat for the remainder of the contest.
“It was tough because I almost felt like trapped a little bit in the second half. I felt I was watching the whole game happen and I couldn’t [contribute] because of fouls, the situation I put myself in – but I just gathered the guys and said, ‘We just got to get the job done right now. We got to come together, we got to play possession by possession and just do our best to eliminate easy things for them and play well on offense and just get easy shots for us,’” Murphy explained.
Yet while the Gators were able to fight hard, maintain their lead and prevail on Sunday, Donovan cautions that the exact opposite could happen in the next game if Florida does not keep its collective head on straight and play with top-notch intensity for 40 minutes.
“Because we did it [Sunday] doesn’t mean we’ll do it if we’re in that situation next week. Every situation is different,” he said. “But they responded the way, as a coach, I had hoped they would respond when a team was threatening. When you get into this time of year and the teams that are left, all these teams that are left have resiliency and toughness and perseverance. There was no way Minnesota was going to come out there in the second half and let the game go from 21 to 31. They’re going to fight. And we didn’t match that intensity and the 13-4 run got them right back in the game.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Donovan on leading Florida to its third-straight Sweet 16: “I’m really, really proud our guys. I think it’s really hard to get out of the first weekend. It just is. There’s so many good teams, I think that the parity of college basketball certainly is a lot different today than it was 25 years ago. I think that’s what makes this tournament so special. And then when you get an opportunity to go into a second weekend and be able to get two victories, I mean it’s, it says a lot about our guys because the season is so long. It’s such a long season. And to get yourself ready to play night in and night out, I give our guys a lot of credit. Especially the seniors – Erik and Mike and Kenny – and what they have been able to do since they have been here. And obviously the guys that are younger, Patric Young’s been here, been a part of it and so has Casey, Will Yeguete. It’s been a really, really good group in terms of just going out there. I like being around them. They’re great kids, they work hard, they’re very, very pleasing, they understand what the program is trying to build, what we’re trying to do. I think they take that very, very personally and they try to do the best they can. So the last three years, those guys deserve the credit, because they’re the ones out there performing and playing.”
» Murphy on the Gators going to three-straight Sweet 16s: “It’s something special to be part of that and the program’s special. We all really care about each other and when there’s a group of guys that really care about each other, they can accomplish special things. Even before the first Sweet 16, when I was younger, we had guys ahead of us that paved the way for us and showed us what it took. They gave us that sense of camaraderie. I think it just speaks to coach and what he’s done with the program. That’s how he is. And then that feeds into us and that’s how we become.”
» Rosario on facing Florida Gulf Coast: “Right now we don’t know too much about those guys because we’re so locked in on ourselves and what’s going on with the Gators. But I’m sure that coach will break down the next opponent to us and we’re going to sit there and just listen to the things that coach has to tell us about our next opponent and make sure we’re on edge.”
» Smith on Wilbekin’s play: “I thought he was pretty smart in finding guys open. […] He’s a guy that really does a good job of orchestrating their team, taking care of the basketball, and really, he’s really a very excellent defender. He really takes a lot of pride [in it]. And I thought he shut down Austin [Hollins]. And whenever he was around, Austin struggled in the second half. And part of it was because of their defense there. They’re one of the best defensive teams, Florida’s one of the best defensive teams we have played against and one of the best in the country.”