The three-seed Florida Gators (29-7) advanced to the Elite Eight for the third-straight year and seventh time in team history with a 62-50 take down of the 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (26-11) in 2013 NCAA Tournament action at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX. After the game, head coach Billy Donovan and a number of his players met with the media to discuss what transpired on Friday in the Sweet 16.
The four-seed Michigan Wolverines (29-7) stunned one-seed Kansas in the first game from Arlington on Friday and advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1994. The Wolverines came from behind to force overtime and eventually took down their foes 87-85 behind 23 points from Trey Burke (all of which came in the second half and overtime). Florida holds a 1-1 record all-time against Michigan, pulling off a 79-63 win in a neutral site game on Dec. 27, 1998. (The teams met previously on March 19, 1988 – a game UF lost 108-85 at a neutral site – but the victory was vacated by the NCAA.)
Sunday’s showdown will commence at 2:20 p.m. (EDT) and air live on CBS. Marv Albert (play-by-play), Steve Kerr (color commentator) and Craig Sager (sideline reporter) will be on the call for the contest.
DIGGING IN AND OUT OF AN EARLY HOLE
Florida opened Friday’s game as cold as a team could be shooting-wise, hitting just four of its first 20 shots while watching FGCU explode out to an early 15-4 lead mostly due to a pair of wide-open three pointers. The Gators not only missed open jumpers but also saw layups roll around the rim without going into the net, an incredibly frustrating situation considering UF was executing its game plan in the early going.
“I felt like we really got a lot of good looks. Obviously the focus was to go down inside to [Erik] Murphy and Patric Young. Those guys had really good looks inside. I thought from the perimeter, I think Mike [Rosario] started off 0-for-5. He had pretty good looks. We couldn’t get anything to fall for us,” Donovan said.
There was no panic from Florida, however. Donovan called a timeout, the Gators composed themselves and got right back in the game in a nick of time.
“I don’t think we panicked at all as a team. We’ve been there before. The main thing with us was starting to get defensive stops. We put together a couple defensive stops. Offense, it wasn’t our best day, but it came along,” senior guard Kenny Boynton said.
Added junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin: “We had a game to win. We had everybody encouraging each other, keeping each other’s head in the right place. When you have that, you’re not going to get that frustrated.”
“We were too determined to win this game so we just fought through, stayed together and picked it up as a whole,” Young concurred. “We had to fight through human nature in the sense of feeling sorry for ourselves that we were down. We really had to fight through. It’s easy to lay down and give up, but we were able to fight as a whole through adversity and stay together.”
Read the rest of the Florida-FGCU post-game (including videos)…
Florida succeeded in that mission by relying on a trio of bench players – freshman G Michael Frazier II and junior forwards Casey Prather and Will Yeguete. Frazier drained a pair of big three-pointers (complimented by another from Rosario), Prather cleaned up in and around the basket and Yeguete played staunch defense that kept the Gators in the game and eventually earned them a halftime lead.
“We wanted to come out and play with energy and help our team win. I think we did a great job of doing it,” Prather said.
Yeguete said Donovan’s quick speech during his early timeout helped get the team going. He recalled his coach saying: “Just settle down. Take your time. It’s a long game. Don’t be nervous. You’ve been here before and just take your time. It’s going to come. Just move the ball and we have to play defense.”
And that is exactly what Florida did.
“It’s a 40-minute game, and we had talked about that coming into it,” Donovan said. “I just kept telling those guys, as long as we’re getting good looks, we’ll be fine, but we need to continue to defend. And really, it was our defense that got us back in. Frazier made back-to-back three-point shots, Mike made a three-point shot. I’d never seen this on a stat sheet before, we took twice as many shots as they did. They only got up 16 shots. We got 32 shots. Between the threes in the [first] half, the offensive rebounds enabled us to get back in the game and get the lead going into the locker room.”
WHICH SIDE WAS THE DISRESPECT ON?
Coming into the game, the Eagles mentioned a few times – admitting they did not have the necessary proof – that they felt the Gators did not have the appropriate respect level for them considering their seed and conference among other things. Addressing that after the game, Donovan appeared confused at the notion.
“For whatever reason, they felt like the two teams they played before they played us, they disrespected them. I don’t know how they know that or if that’s true. But certainly I think we went into the game with a lot of respect for them,” he said.
Where respect – or at least attention – may not have been directed was to Florida. The Gators have been one of the best teams in the nation all season long – even if at times they did not play that way – and were a heavy favorite on Friday despite the national media being much more concerned about their opponents.
“It’s pretty much been like that since I got to the University of Florida,” Young said. “We haven’t really got credit for anything we’ve accomplished over these past few years, so I’m used to it.”
Prather said Florida knew it would be the villain in the game and the team was prepared for that role. “We did a great job staying connected as a team. We really didn’t get caught up into how many people were here and who they were rooting for. We had to win the game,” he said. “Coach Donovan did a great job of teaching us that you can’t get wrapped up in what’s going on outside of the lines. I think we did a great job coming together as a team.”
In the end, UF pulled off another double-digit victory and remains 0-6 in games decided by less than 10 points this season. Asked after the game if that statistic concerned him, Murphy shrugged the idea off altogether. “We’re not worried about that. A close game… A game is a game. Every game is different. Every game is its own game. Close game stuff, we don’t think about that at all. It’s just trying to win.”
DUNK CITY: GAINESVILLE EDITION
A first-half hammer dunk from Prather coming off a fastbreak pass from Yeguete brought some much-needed energy for the Gators in the early going, and Rosario’s second-half okie-doke play off an inbounds pass from midcourt helped put way Florida’s little brothers from Fort Myers, FL, which had affectionately been known as “Dunk City” for about a week’s time (see video below).
Rosario discussed his play and the decision to pull that move after the game. “After I made that play going into the timeout, you know, I just told coach I took a gamble on that play. I wanted to make a play for my teammates. I felt that if he turns his back and no one is protecting our basket, I’m going to try to score. I just felt that I made a play for my team at a crucial point in the game and I wanted to be aggressive,” he said.
PRIORITY NUMBER ONE: DEFENSE
While fighting through its shooting struggles, Florida continued playing aggressive defense on FGCU and star PG Brett Comer, who finished the game with just four points on 1-of-5 shooting with seven assists and a career-high nine steals.
“I thought the key [Friday] was we did a really, really good job on Comer,” Donovan said. “I don’t know if our front court gets enough credit because in order to guard Comer you’re going to have to do it with more than just Scottie. Patric Young was really, really good today. Even though he and Murphy struggled shooting the ball. … But the pick-and-roll coverage was good. Scottie was on Comer. He did a good job. And I thought Patric in pick-and-roll action was really good. We forced him away from the action. We kept him out of the lane. We took away a lot of the lob dunks. We kind of closed down passing angles for him, which made it more difficult for him to do some of the things he’s done in the last two games.”
Wilbekin, a player that takes pride in his defense but does not boast about his successes, said what he and the Gators did on Friday was exactly what they have been doing all season long. “I don’t think it’s that much of a statement because we’ve done it a lot this year,” he said. “We just played our defense. We didn’t do anything special.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Donovan on advancing to a third-straight Elite Eight: “I’ve said this before, it’s so hard just to win a tournament game, never mind advance. … I’m proud of what they’ve been able to do up to this point in time. And they’ve gotten better. I think they’ve been committed to working and committed to trying to get better together, collectively. I think we’ve made some strides and some growth each year. So it’s exciting this time of year to still be playing and still have an opportunity to play again on Sunday.”
» Donovan’s key to the victory: “I actually thought the key in the game, in my opinion, was the way we started the second half. I think we ran like six points off real quick and got a 10-point or 11-point lead pretty quickly.”
» Yeguete on his defense: “I feel like I’m feeling better every single game. I’m just trying to bring that energy off the bench and help my team out. … Once I get going, I’m good. I don’t think about if I’m 100 percent or not with my knee or anything. I just go; I just play.”
» FGCU head coach Andy Enfield’s opening remarks: “I have three things to say: No. 1, Florida is a great basketball team. They outplayed us tonight and deserved to win. Wish them luck going forward. … And lastly, I want to thank our players for an unbelievable season, 26 wins. We made some history and I can’t tell you how proud I am of what they’ve accomplished.”
» Enfield on committing 12 first-half turnovers and 20 for the game: “I was shocked at some of the bad turnovers we had in the first half. When you go into 12 turnovers at halftime and eight of them are because you’re throwing the ball into their hands and just – it was just like – it wasn’t what Florida was doing, we did it to ourselves. Florida is a great defensive team but some of the turnovers you can’t even make that up. It’s hard to imagine our lack of ball skills, but you just can’t beat a team with 20 turnovers as good as Florida. We gave them 19 extra possessions and we didn’t rebound the ball. We played great defense. We held them to 38 percent from the field. And you have 12 turnovers in the first half, that’s a problem.”
» Eagles F Chase Fieler on having and then blowing an early lead: “It was very exciting to get out to that big run early, playing in the Sweet 16, playing the way we were playing early in the tournament against a great team in Florida. When they started their run we couldn’t — we didn’t have the energy we did in the other two games. It got us down. We weren’t playing with the same energy, the same fire we were before. At halftime we tried to discuss it and get each other going. They are a great team and did a great job of slowing us down, turning down our ball screens, making our plays ran from five feet deeper than we wanted to and just really got us out of our game.”