Head coach Billy Donovan spoke with the media on Monday, two days after the No. 1 Florida Gators (34-2) advanced to the Sweet 16 of the 2014 NCAA Tournament for the fourth-straight season and sixth time int he last nine years.
Florida will face the No. 4-seed UCLA Bruins (28-8) on Thursday at approximately 9:45 p.m. in Memphis, TN at the FedEx Forum. The game will air live nationally on CBS, tipping off 30 minutes after the conclusion of the other South Region showdown between No. 10-seed Stanford and No. 11-seed Dayton.
The Gators are 3-0 against the Bruins in NCAA Tournament play with all three games played in the prior eight seasons. UF had to go through UCLA to capture both of its national titles, winning 73-57 to bring home the 2006 championship and 76-66 in the Final Four of the 2007 tournament. Florida is 7-2 all-time in the Sweet 16 with a 6-1 record under Donovan including six-straight wins dating back to 2000.
Despite being seen after the Pittsburgh game with ice on his knee, senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said he “feels fine” and that the injury was simply a bruise that he likely suffered by bumping knees during the game.
Donovan said he has not heard any concerns from Florida’s training staff in regards to Wilbekin’s health. “We were off [Sunday] but no complaints. The trainer didn’t say anything. [Wilbekin] went in, he was diagnosed with a bruise or just kind of banged knees – actually thought at first it was some cramps because he’s had some cramping issues during the course of the year,” he said. “But there’s no issues right now, at least that I’ve been aware of or made aware of as it relates to him practicing and going forward.”
Also injury-free is sophomore guard DeVon Walker, who Donovan said did not play on Saturday simply because the Gators did not have a need for him in the game.
“There was not a lot foul trouble. I would anticipate using DeVon in the next game,” he explained. “I felt like our minutes were pretty equally distributed. We did not really deal with any foul trouble. … We were really substituting more out of fatigue and trying to get some guys off the floor and rest them. So the opportunity for him probably didn’t present itself to really get in there and play with the way the game was going.”
Much will be written about Thursday’s game being a showdown between one of the nation’s best offenses and one of the country’s top defenses…and all of those various stories will be accurate. UCLA enters its next contest ranked ninth in scoring offense (81.5), while Florida comes in third in scoring defense (57.5). As it turns out, the Bruins and Gators are also ranked quite low in the opposite categories with the four-seed checking in 177th in scoring defense (70.1) and the one-seed down at 195th in scoring offense (70.4).
Donovan explained Monday that he has no plans to overlook UCLA’s offensive success, calling it likely the “most explosive” and “most unique” that UF will face this season.
“Probably unlike any team we’ve played this year,” he said. “Really, really fast, explosive in transition, great scoring ability from all five spots. [They have] a uniqueness about them because one of their leading rebounders is Kyle Anderson. It’s a little bit unique for a point guard to get as many rebounds as he does and starts the break, and that’s where they’re really, really great is in transition. They also do a really good job with their half-court offense.”
Anderson in particular, who Donovan recruited and expected to land coming out of high school in 2012, could cause the Gators problems as he is listed as seven inches taller than Wilbekin, Florida’s best defender.
In fact, Wilbekin is not even sure if he will guard Anderson when all is said and done but cautioned Monday that it will be a difficult task if he becomes the assignment. “When guarding him, you just got to try to keep him out of the lane because once he gets in the lane, he can use their size to finish over you or find somebody else [open].”
Despite UF’s long-time tournament success against UCLA in the tournament, Donovan correctly pointed out Monday that this is a completely different Bruins team the Gators will be facing with Steve Alford – not Ben Howland – running the show.
“You have a totally different coach, you have a totally different style of play, you have a totally different philosophy and you have totally different players,” he said. “The name on the jersey happens to be the same one that we’ve maybe played three different times in the NCAA Tournament, but everything else is really a lot different.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Donovan on whether he has any plans to give UF some rest before Thursday: “We’re not going to take it easy in practice. I think when you get between the lines, there’s certain days that are more physically demanding than others. … We had off [Sunday]. Hopefully our guys have gotten somewhat their legs back under them. But for me as it relates to us practicing and what we do, a lot of it is predicated on the trainer, predicated on the strength coach. But when we get between the lines, whatever it is we’re doing, we want to work at maximum level.”
» Donovan on Florida climbing the proverbial “mountain” of adversity throughout the season: “The year is always a climb. You’re always trying to climb and continue to go on and pursue, and I think a lot of times it’s very, very easy in the middle of your climb to look back, see how far you’ve come, to want to rest, relax, maybe lose sight or perspective of where you started out as a team and how you’re trying to continue on in that journey. When you’re climbing, you’re dealing with a lot of adversity. You’re dealing with a lot of challenges. There’s a lot of struggles. But there’s also a lot of great things, opportunity wise, out there in front of you. The minute you start to look back on where you’ve come from, where you’ve been, and you pause and you do that, I think you lose sight of what’s out in front of you and maybe you never get a chance to realize your fullest potential as an individual or as a team. … We need to continue to climb, getting out there climbing. When you climb a mountain, it’s cold, altitude, there’s a lot of adversity and challenges you’re dealing with, and I think no different than what every team that’s left playing is trying to do is climb and move forward.”
» Donovan said sophomore G Michael Frazier II, despite going 3-for-13 from downtown in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, played well in the two games, especially on defense where he has gotten better and better as the season has progressed. Frazier will come around, Donovan explained, especially as his teammates move the ball more on offense and create additional open looks.
» Donovan on whether senior forward Casey Prather has also improved defensively: “Casey has shown moments of being a terrific defender, and he’s certainly got the ability to do it. And then there’s been some moments where he has not done what we’ve needed him to do. He continues to get better. I think he understands areas where he needs to get better. … I think Casey has taken it upon himself to try to do a better job with that, and he certainly has scored the basketball a lot better this year for us than maybe he has in years past. He’s been able to rebound the ball very, very well. Out in transition he’s very, very explosive. But he has great ability and great talent, in my opinion, defensively. He’s long, he’s athletic, he’s got good foot speed. But again, I think for him that scenario of focus and concentration that he needs to continue to have.”
» Donovan on everyone thinking the SEC was “down” yet it still placed three teams in the Sweet 16: “It’s very, very unfair to pin a league based on what happens in November and December. … In a lot of ways, maybe some of the losses that our league took in November and December prepared them to be better in our league. … I think our league can play with any league in the country. But I would say this, and I’ve said this before: Just because a certain league teams get knocked out early doesn’t mean the league is overrated, and because a league really, really advances in the tournament doesn’t mean the league is great.”
» Donovan on Bruce Pearl returning to the league as head coach of Auburn: “I had a chance to talk to Bruce. He had called me and we had talked a little bit. I’m happy for him. … He went through a lot of difficulty personally, internally. I think it was really hard on him. I think probably after the first year of being out and getting on with ESPN, he wasn’t really sure if he wanted to coach again. He, I think, evaluated it, he looked at it, but he’s an outstanding coach. I think it’s good for our league. … I think Bruce coming in will do a great job. He’ll certainly bring energy and enthusiasm to the league, to Auburn, and I’m happy for him if that’s what he wants to do, and obviously it is, and he felt comfortable about making his way back into coaching.”
» Donovan on playing a late game Thursday after being designated a number of early tip-offs: “I think you take your experience that you’ve had during the course of the year … What happens is, that day, if you look at it as a shell, there’s things that we’re going to do inside those time frames that our guys have always been accustomed to if they’ve had a chance to experience. … The 12:00 game against Pittsburgh, no shoot around. This game against UCLA we’ll have a shoot around time, be more of a fuller, completer day. But they’ve kind of been through some of that already just based on our experiences outside the league and inside the league.”
» Senior F Will Yeguete on the advice he gets from Joakim Noah, whom he speaks with every two weeks: “He told me just kept pushing and wait for my time to come, just play with a motor, play hard – just like he is playing. He’s having a really good year. I try to reach out to him sometimes, but obviously he’s a busy guy, so I don’t talk to him every single day.”