3/18: Muschamp’s thoughts from spring practice

With the Florida Gators beginning spring practice for the 2011 season on Wednesday, head coach Will Muschamp met the media late Friday to discuss how individual players are performing and the injury statuses of others. OGGOA has compiled some of the most important news, notes and quotes from his availability.

JENKINS ACCEPTS PLEA DEAL ON MARIJUANA CHARGE

Earlier in the day, senior cornerback Janoris Jenkins accepted a plea deal to resolve the misdemeanor charge for marijuana possession he was arrested for in January. Jenkins had adjudication withheld by the State Attorney’s Office (meaning he was technically found guilty of the crime but will not be convicted for it) and will close the matter by paying $316 in fines and expenses.

EXPLAINING THOMPSON’s ROLE

Following practice on Thursday, redshirt senior wide receiver Denote Thompson suggested that the preliminary depth chart released by the coaching staff on Monday may have had a misprint because it listed him as the primary F-11 receiver. Muschamp clarified Thompson’s responsibilities, noting that the F-11 is not always a slot position. “Depends on what formation we call,” he said.

“If we’re in regular personnel, 21 or 12, he’s going to be playing the X position. But when we’re in 11 personnel, he’ll be playing the X or the F position,” Muschamp added, noting that the every receiver position on the field can play both inside and outside. “We cross-train all the wide receiver positions so those guys – we can get the best three or four or two or one receiver on the field at a time.”

TALENT UP, WEIGHT DOWN

While discussing the team’s depth at running back, Muschamp was certain to point out two players who have already received high praise from his offensive coaches. “Chris Rainey’s done a nice job, and Trey Burton has [too],” he said. “After [them] we just need to have some guys step up. It’s hard in helmets to really [evaluate], but you see Mack [Brown]’s made a couple nice cuts here and there.”

However, Muschamp was less enthused to talk about the weight of junior tackle Xavier Nixon, who has recently appeared noticeably thinner. “You’re always either in a position of a guy’s in perfect weight, a guy’s overweight or a guy’s underweight. And he’s certainly not where we want him to be right now, but Xavier’s working hard at that. I’m proud of his efforts and what he’s trying to do.” he said.

INJURY UPDATES

– Redshirt junior T Matt Patchan (wrist): “Matt has been cleared for exercise but not contact. He has been cleared to lift. [He] will not have any contact this spring. He is lifting and we’re going to amp up that a little bit so he can get his strength back.”

– Redshirt senior guard James Wilson (knee): Called “very limited” though he is doing some reps on the field.

– Redshirt sophomore tight end Desmond Parks (wrist): Placed on medical hardship due to injury and no longer with the team

QUOTES

On his thoughts from practice Friday: “The timing in the passing game looked good today as far as hitting some balls. John [Brantley] threw some nice balls. […] There’s a lot of teaching going on, a lot of learning going on. A lot of learning about our tempo and how we want to do things.”

On redshirt freshman defensive end Chris Martin: “Chris is a guy that’s got some pass rushing ability. He can move his hands and feet in the rush. We’re expecting him to continue to grow as a football player, as a human being, and be a contributor for our team. How much? He will determine that, not us.”

NCAA Tournament: Florida’s postgame thoughts

Shortly after the No. 2-seed Florida Gators wiped the floor with the No. 15-seed UC Santa Barbara Gauchos 79-51, a handful of players and head coach Billy Donovan participated in the postgame press conference OGGOA has compiled some of the choice notes and quotes from the media availability.

EXPLOSIVE FIRST HALF SETS TONE

Florida started hot out of the gate on Thursday, taking a 10-1 advantage in the first few minutes of the game and extending it from there. Donovan noted that it was the team’s pre-game preparation that helped them achieve their goal of winning their first contest and advancing. “We came out and we played well in the first half. We had a lot of balance,” he said. “Our offense was good, but we really did a good job defensively. […] This is the first time where this is season-ending stuff right now. They came in very focused, and they learned some valuable lessons from the Kentucky game of what they needed to do better. Their focus coming in, and their preparation for the two-or-three days that we had leading into the game, was very good.”

Junior point guard Erving Walker and some of his teammates echoed Donovan’s sentiments. “This is a whole new season,” he said. “We wanted to come out focused, work hard and play hard. We did a good job of that tonight.” Sophomore point guard Kenny Boynton deflected the notion that the Gators were looking to make a statement. “We just came out and we wanted to focus on winning,” he said. We wanted to block out what everyone was saying. We just wanted to come out and play our best game overall – offensively and defensively.”

For senior forward Chandler Parsons, spreading the ball around (he had eight of the team’s 15 first-half assists) was the key. “It was definitely important to get off to a good start. My guards really found me and I was fortunate enough to knock down some shots early,” he said. “We just kept moving the ball great in the first half; I think we had 15 assists in the first half, which is really good. We just wanted to keep pushing the ball, play smart and limit silly turnovers and things that we can control. Just keep playing unselfish like we have been all season long.”

Boynton was also proud of how Florida performed overall to start the game. “This is definitely one of our best first halves. After the Kentucky game, we wanted to come out and start a game off with good team chemistry,” he said. “In the first half, we moved the ball well, we got good shots, we hit open guys. We worked inside-and-out. On defense we also did a great job making it tough for those guys to score.”

SHOOTING EFFICIENCY MARKEDLY IMPROVED

Less than a week after one of their worst shooting performances of the year, the Gators found their groove once again, shooting better than 70 percent from the floor most of the first half before tailing off around 58 percent to open the game and 54.7 percent overall. Walker was pleased with how the backcourt performed but recognized that Florida needs to do more than just shoot well. “It always feels good to hit shots, but like coach said, we’re focusing on defense,” he said. “We just want to take good shots; we know it’s not going to go in every night. But as long as we play good defense, we’ll stay in the game.”

Asked if the Gators can play this way against better competition, Parsons noted that it was Florida’s relentlessness that was actually the key. “We didn’t stop. Once we were playing well, hitting shots, playing unselfish, we just kept going. We didn’t let up. We didn’t let them come back in the game and we kept our foot on the gas,” he said. “That’s something we need to have, that killer instinct. When we get leads on teams, we can’t afford to let them come back. We’ve got to keep playing for 40 minutes.”

For Donovan, it was the shot selection of Walker and Boynton that really made the difference. “Erving, in the Kentucky game, really needed to understand that, with some of the length and size that he goes against, that there’s other things he can do to really affect the game,” he said. “Because he was scoring so heavily in the SEC Tournament, when we were struggling to score, he was trying to do too much offensively and not letting the game come to him. [Thursday] he scored but it didn’t look like he took very many shots. Kenny was patient and then all of a sudden there were a couple plays where the ball really moved quickly and next thing you know the ball ends up in his hands.”

QUOTES

Donovan on his team’s mindset moving forward: “These guys understand what’s at stake. They realize that, ‘OK, what happened today margin of victory – that’s not going to be the case the next game.’”

Donovan on if he was frustrated having not won a NCAA Tournament game since 2007: “The one thing that’s hard for me to absorb or take or create a level of peace is… I knew after those national championship teams that we were starting over. It has been very difficult. It has been very challenging. It has also been very rewarding being part of a group of guys and trying to help them understand what it takes to win at this level.”

Donovan on his team’s ball movement: “Our ball movement was very good, and I thought we had a stretch there where we really moved the ball at a very high level. We were pretty crisp with our passing and our ball movement and we found open people. Guys had their heads up, the vision was there, and we were able to utilize inside-out action and able to get some of our shooters open looks.”

Boynton on his defensive effort: “Coming into the game, my focus was to make [Orlando] Johnson take tough shots.”

Walker on finally winning a NCAA Tournament game: “This is huge just for us to come out and get the loss out of our brains. We just wanted to come out here and play hard and this should lead us into [UCLA].”

Parsons on finally winning a NCAA Tournament game: “It feels good. This is our first one. No one on our team has ever got one, so it definitely feels good to get one. We’re not satisfied. We don’t just want to come here and win one game. We want to make some noise. It feels good right now, we’re going to celebrate, but we can’t get too happy because we’re on a mission and we got another game here coming up Saturday.”

Parsons on the team’s defensive effort: “We did a really good job following the scouting report, knowing what they were going to run and their actions. KB and our guys did a good job on Johnson, not giving him easy looks.”

Parsons on if he knew he was within reach of a triple-double: “I saw it. People were talking about it close to the end of the game. It was more important for our guys to get rest than me to do something like that. They were definitely talking about it, but it really doesn’t matter to me. The win is much more important than anything I can do.”

3/17: Gators excited about future of the offense

With the Florida Gators starting spring practice for the 2011 season on Wednesday, the school made many of the team’s offensive players available to the media after the second day of action on Thursday. There was a noticeable excitement in the air about the possibilities in Florida’s new offense under coordinator Charlie Weis, as evidenced by some of the notable news and quotes provided during the press sessions.

BRANTLEY COMFORTABLE, READY TO MOVE ON

The subject of plenty of ire from Gator Nation in 2010, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley is ready to put his and the team’s struggles behind him and move on with an enthusiastic outlook on the possibilities this season. Brantley explained that, while transferring was a consideration, he never stopped being a Gator during that period. “There wasn’t really a day where [I decided to] come back. I never left,” he said. “I never decided to leave because I wanted to be a Gator. So I never really left. I just decided this was still the place I want to be and this is where I am.”

Part of the reason Brantley chose to stick around was Weis and his penchant for developing quarterbacks. “That definitely helped,” he said. “Coach Weis is a genius for the offense. He’s going to do great things here. This whole new coaching staff is going to do great things here. […] He’s got a great track record. You can put a lot of trust in his hands because he knows what he’s doing and has got a track record to show it.”

The duo is already getting along “pretty good,” said Brantley, who noted that he is comfortable in the offense. “We haven’t had too much time together but time spent has been good. We’re getting that relationship. He’s a real cool guy. He loves to coach us hard, but he understands how we are and is going to do great things here. […] This [pro-style offense] is more my style. This is what I do – just drop back and throw it. We have some great running backs to take that pressure off of everything. All around I think it’s going to be a great thing.”

Asked if he lost confidence in himself last year, Brantley avoided the question by looking ahead to the future. “That’s the past. I’ve moved on, he said. “That’s what’s good about this new coaching staff – you’re starting new, from scratch, and building from there.”

RECEIVERS CONFIDENT IN BRANTLEY

Asked to evaluate how they believe Brantley will perform in Weis’s offense, three of Florida’s primary receivers for 2011 sounded amped for the senior. “I feel like Brantley is loving this offense,” redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose said*. “He’s enjoying every second of it. Him and Coach Weis, those two are enjoying each other a lot. I can tell; they’re bonding a lot.”

Junior Omarius Hines and redshirt senior Deonte Thompson conveyed similar sentiments. “Oh yeah. Brantley will be very comfortable,” said Hines, with Thompson adding*, “The offense will be a great fit for him, a great fit.”

REED GETTING RAVE REVIEWS

Spring practice has just begun, but one of the hottest names among the Gators is redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed. Originally supposed to move to that position last year, Reed did not have much time to develop there in the offseason and a spread offense in need of athleticism from the signal caller brought him back into that role.

“Hopefully, I’ll be better than last year because I’ll just be focusing on tight end,” Reed said*. “It is kind of a relief because I can focus on getting better at one thing, and I don’t have to be a jack-of-all-trades, as they say. […] I’m just happy I can help out any way I can with the offense. If it’s me getting the ball, then that will be good. If it’s me blocking, anyway I can help.”

Brantley, the man who will be throwing him the ball and making sure he is productive, is just as excited about the change. “[Reed]’s going to be a huge weapon,” he said*. “It’s great to have a guy attached to the line, be able to block, be able to run for routes and be able to flex out into the slot and do the same things from there. It’s going to be huge for us to have that, and he’s going to be a dynamic player for us. We’ve got a lot of athletes, but he’s definitely one of the most athletic, that’s for sure.”

Thompson was also pumped about how Reed can help. “He’s a great athlete. He runs good routes, too. He’s diverse, man, so he’ll be great at tight end,” he said.

TAKING A DEEPER ROUTE

The receivers each had a glimmer in their eyes when a particular question was asked of them. That question? “Are you noticing any differences in the routes this year?” Hines, trying to distinguish how they are different, realized it was a pretty simple answer. “The routes are just deeper…not really different…just deeper,” he said. Thompson, who said he expects to play X receiver mostly but should see some time at the Z position as well, conveyed that the deeper routes are much-needed. “That’s really exciting,” he said. “Now the [defensive backs] can’t just sit on us.”

Perhaps the most notably excited overall was sophomore WR Solomon Patton. “The coaching staff that we have this year, I’m really enjoying it,” he said. “I just feel like our swag is back. This coaching staff is so laid back, but at the same time they’re coaching us hard. They’re letting us play how we’ve been recruited to play. I’m really excited.”

QUOTES

Brantley on where the team is at right now: “We’re a long way from where we want to be, but it was a good start yesterday.”

Hines on his outlook for the offense: “Once we get everything situated, it’ll be real good.”

Hines on being in good shape: “The offseason program was difficult. A lot of running… but it was worth it.”

Debose on if he is anxious to learn the new system: “It’s a lot different. It’s a totally different offense from last year. Going through the winter program and the winter workouts, we’ve been really anxious just to get on the field and do football instead of just conditioning and everything.”

Debose on how he is adjusting: “I’m still trying to learn and just soak up all the information Coach Weis is asking of us. I can’t really tell you what they’re going to do with me; it’s just basic information right now.”

Debose on participating in spring practice: “This is actually my first spring that I was actually able to practice on the first day of practice. Everything is pretty much new to me, too, so I’m still trying to pick up the way practice is going.”

Debose on what WR position he can/will play: “I see my role everywhere. I’m able to play inside or outside.”

Thompson on being listed at the F position on the initial depth chart: “I think that was a misprint. I haven’t been in the slot yet. Frankie is in the slot.”

Redshirt freshman QB Tyler Murphy on how reps are being shared^: “We’re all getting equal reps. Come in the fall, none of us will be upset, and we’ll all be content with the decision knowing we all got a fair chance.”

Murphy on rumors he was going to transfer to Temple*: “It was a coincidence that [Steve Addazio] did go to Temple. But I really like this school. I enjoy it off the field and academics are great. I thought it would be best if I stayed and give it a shot.”

Attribution: Quotes without marks were acquired by OGGOA. Those marked with * are courtesy of The Gainesville Sun, and those with a ^ are courtesy of the Palm Beach Post.

(2) Florida Gators outclass (15) UCSB Gauchos 79-51 to open 2011 NCAA Tournament

In a day filled with buzzer-beaters and close calls, the No. 2-seed Florida Gators (27-7) strayed from the norm and smacked down the No. 15-seed UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (18-14) 79-51 in the second round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, FL. with the win, Florida earned its first NCAA Tournament victory since defeating Ohio State for the 2007 national title.

Senior forward Chandler Parsons led the way for the Gators with 10 points, 10 assists and seven boards, while junior point guard Erving Walker was the team’s leading scorer posting 18 points on 5-of-8 shooting (4-for-6 from downtown).

UCSB opened the game by winning the tip-off and hitting a free throw, but it was all Florida the rest of the way. The Gators started their dominance with a 10-0 run including a pair of treys from Parsons and soon after used a 17-2 run to jump ahead 35-13.

Florida took a 25-point lead a few minutes later and outshot Santa Barbara 58.1 percent to 27.3 percent in the first half. The Gators also out-rebounded the Gauchos 19-9 and stole the ball five more times (8-3) to force an extra handful of turnovers (5-10).

UF continued their onslaught after the break, jumping ahead a game-high 34 points midway through the second half. UCSB failed to make any headway in the latter portion of the game as Florida substituted most of their bench and held on for the victory.

Joining Parsons and Walker with impressive outings were sophomore guard Kenny Boynton (13 points) and senior F Alex Tyus (eight points, seven boards). Redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin finished with 10 points, and freshman C Patric Young added six points and six rebounds (three offensive).

G/F Orlando Johnson led Santa Barbara with a game-high 21 points, and teammate F James Nunnally contributed 12 points.

The Gators finished the game shooting 54.7 percent from the floor while holding the Gauchos to 36.2 percent efficiency. UF was also 8-for-23 (34.8 percent) from beyond the arc and 13-for-17 from (76.5 percent) from the charity stripe.

Florida will move on to face the winner of No. 7-seed UCLA vs. No. 10-seed Michigan State in round of 32 action on Saturday in Tampa. The game’s start time and television carrier are yet to be determined but will be announced here when available.

Photo Credit: Chris O’Meara/Associated Press

2011 NCAA Tournament: (2) Florida vs. (15) UCSB

Event: 2011 NCAA Tournament – Second Round
Location: St. Pete Times Forum – Tampa, FL [Capacity: 20,500]
Time: 6:50 p.m. (EST)

TV: TBS / TBS-HD
Online Video: —->
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

(2) FLORIDA GATORS (15) UC SANTA BARBARA GAUCHOS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Bob Williams
Record: 26-7 Record: 18-13
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Big West
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -12.5; O/U 127.5

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Florida is making its second-straight and 16th overall NCAA Tournament appearance. The Gators are 29-13 all-time in the event with two national titles, three championship game appearances and four Final Four appearances.
» UF’s No. 2 seed is their second-highest opening position in school history.
» Donovan is 22-8 all-time in the tournament including two national championships and three Final Four appearances. His .733 winning percentage at the Big Dance is fourth among active coaches and second all-time among SEC coaches. He is also the youngest active coach to win a national title (age 40 in 2006).
» Florida is 13-3 against the 2011 NCAA field and finished the regular season with the third outright SEC championship in school history (1989, 2007). The Gators have captured five overall SEC titles including four under Donovan (2000, 2001, 2007, 2011).
» The Gators and Gauchos are meeting for the first time. Florida will also be facing an opponent from the Big West conference for the first time in school history.
» Florida is 4-3 all-time in the St. Pete Times Forum (1-1 in the NCAA Tournament).
» UF is averaging a +13.7-point margin of victory in 22 tournament wins under Donovan.
» The Gators are 21-2 when holding an opponent under 70 points this year.
» Florida has won 18 of their last 22 games (and 10 of their last 12) including 16 against RPI top 100 teams. The Gators have not lost back-to-back contests since Feb. 2010.
» UF is 10-3 when senior forward Chandler Parsons takes 10+ shots from the field. He has moved into the top 20 in school history in scoring (1,402 points) and is one of only two active Division I players with over 1,300 points, 800 rebounds, 300 assists and 100 steals. He also became the sixth player in school history with 500+ career field goals.
» Florida bests UC Santa Barbara in three of four major national statistical categories. The Gators lead the Gauchos in points per game 71.5-68.4 (98th-184th), rebounding 37.5-32.6 (49th-284th) and field goal percentage .462-.456 (51st-72nd); however, UCSB dishes more assists 14.5-13.7 (67th-106th). UF also sports a superior defense, forcing opponents to score fewer points per game 63.0-65.4. Florida ranks 10th in RPI (.6353) and seventh in strength of schedule nationally compared to Santa Barbara being 153rd (.5024) and 20th, respectively.

KNOW THE OPPONENT

Coming out of the Big West, No. 15-seed UC Santa Barbara awaits Florida in the first round of the tournament. UCSB earned a berth by winning the 2011 Big West Tournament even though they finished the regular season tied for fourth place with an 8-8 league record. The Gauchos defeated Big West-leading Long Beach State in the title game after losing to them by a combined 33 points in two regular season contests. What UCSB does have going for them is guard/forward Orlando Johnson, the Big West’s leading scorer with an average of 21.1 points in 33.2 minutes.

KEEP AN EYE ON…

» Parsons…the 2011 SEC Player of the Year and a unanimous All-SEC First Team selection…who is averaging double-digit points (11.5) while leading the Gators with 7.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.
» Junior point guard Erving Walker…who was marred in a shooting slump but has rebounded and is still leading his team in scoring with 14.4 points per game while also leading the backcourt in both field goal percentage (.411) and three-point percentage (.378). Walker also leads Florida in both turnovers (80) and steals (37).
» Sophomore guard Kenny Boynton…who is arguably the Gators’ most talented player but was struggling with consistency shooting the ball. Boynton is hitting 37.7 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc; however, he is second in scoring with 14.31 points per game and makes a team-high 81.7 percent of his free throws.
» Redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin…who is shooting a team-best 57.4 percent from the floor as a starter this season with most of his buckets coming inside the paint. He averages 11.3 points and 5.5 rebounds a game while being a major presence for UF.
» Senior F Alex Tyus…who is averaging career-lows in points, rebounds and field goal percentage and is the only starter who does not score in double digits. He averages just 8.7 points and 5.5 boards each game.
» Freshmen PG Scottie Wilbekin and C Patric Young…who are Florida’s primary reserves each averaging approximately 17.5 minutes per game. Wilbekin leads UF in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.33:1), while Young averages 3.3 points and 3.7 boards.
» UCSB G/F Orlando Johnson…who leads his team in scoring and rebounding by posting averages of 21.1 points and 6.3 boards per game. Johnson plays a team-high 33.2 minutes each contest and shoots 40.1 percent from downtown.
» Gauchos F James Nunnally…who is second to only Johnson on UCSB with averages of 16.4 points and 5.7 rebounds. Nunnally hits 82.9 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe and plays 32.9 minutes per game.

FOUR BITS: Pouncey, softball, lacrosse, WNIT

1 » Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey has signed an endorsement deal with Core Synergy, a company that sells wristbands of titanium and silicone rubber that claim to hold a positive charge that reverses “the effect of pain in the body caused by negative energy fields. Other athlete “ambassadors” of the product include Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick and Green Bay linebacker A.J. Hawk.

2 » No. 2/3 Florida Gators softball (27-1, 4-0 SEC) tore the cover off the ball on Wednesday, defeating the Mississippi State Bulldogs (12-14, 2-2 SEC) 8-0 and 18-1 in a doubleheader at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Senior first baseman Megan Bush (2-5, HR, 5 RBI, R, 2 BB) hit a grand slam in the opening game and tied a school record with a still active 16-game hitting streak. However, her offensive production paled in comparison to senior left fielder Kelsey Bruder (6-7, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 6 R) who blew up with a home run in each game. She also knocked in nearly more than third of the team’s 26 combined runs. Freshman right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers (13-1) drew the start in both games, earning a pair of wins while tossing 9.0 innings, striking out four and only giving up six hits and a single unearned run.

3 » No. 8/10 Florida lacrosse (7-1) saw success earlier in the week with a dominating 18-6 victory over the Colgate Raiders (3-4) on Tuesday at Donald R. Dizney Stadium. Sophomore midfielder Brittany Dashiell scored five goals and registered six points in the contest, both career-highs. She was joined by three other Gators (sophomores M Kitty Cullen, attacker Ashley Bruns and A Janine Hiller) as a foursome of players who registered hat tricks in the win.

4 » Florida women’s basketball, which finished the season a lackluster 18-14, earned a berth to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament and will face the UMBC Retrievers (20-11) in first-round action on Friday at 7 p.m. The game will be hosted at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, marking UF’s 17th postseason berth in 19 seasons.

Billy Donovan’s pre-NCAA Tournament quotes

Prior to the 2011 NCAA Tournament getting underway, Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan spoke with the media in Tampa, FL about a number of topics including his team’s mission, the most difficult part of the event and if it is tough not to look ahead. OGGOA has compiled some choice quotes from Wednesday, which you can find below:

On if his team is on a mission: “When you have a chance to go through different experiences throughout your college career, you hopefully learn from some of your experiences. […] Going into this year, they wanted to try to experience more than they did a year ago, and that can be said in our conference schedule, can be said in a conference tournament, and I think going into the NCAA Tournament.

“There’s not a team in this tournament that doesn’t want the feeling or the excitement of moving on and advancing, so I don’t know if their feeling is any different from any other player that’s in the tournament.”

On if too much is made of site location and traveling: “For Santa Barbara certainly traveling across the country, that’s always a difficult travel. When the game starts tomorrow night and the ball is thrown up, all that stuff will be out the window. The fact that we’re in the state of Florida will be thrown out the window because we’re going to have to go out and play. Although we’re in our own state, this is not an arena that we have played in. Maybe last year we played Syracuse here. But it’s not a place that we’re necessarily comfortable with or have played a lot of games here. It’s a new building for both teams. This time of year, with the excitement of the tournament and guys getting the opportunity to play in postseason play, when the ball goes up, you’re just going to have two teams playing and competing against each other.”

On if it is difficult for the team not to look ahead past UC Santa Barbara: “I really don’t think that’s going to be a problem for us. We have a group of players right now that have never, ever won an NCAA Tournament game on our team in a Florida Gator uniform. So we understand what a challenge Santa Barbara is going to be [Thursday].

“I don’t think those guys are even thinking about anything else but Santa Barbara right now. You know, we’ve had a lot to get prepared for because we’re playing against a team that we’re unfamiliar with, they’re unfamiliar with us. There’s a lot both coaching staffs have got to do to familiarize their teams with personnel and schemes, so I’m not really worried about that. Our guys are totally focused on playing [Thursday].”

On the most difficult part of his job coaching this team in the tournament: “This is different right now than any time in the year. We normally don’t have a media press conference. We normally don’t have an open locker room. We normally don’t have an open practice. There are things that go on that are totally different that your normal daily routine that you would have in your non-conference schedule and your conference schedule. The understanding of how to deal with and manage all that.

“But this is really a time of year that’s exciting. There’s a lot more national attention, so to speak, at this point in time than maybe there was before. It’s exciting. But as you mentioned, it also can be distracting and how your players can handle and manage that, I think, is very, very important.”

Florida players’ pre-NCAA Tournament quotes

Prior to the 2011 NCAA Tournament getting underway, the Florida Gators spoke with members of the media in Tampa, FL about a number of topics including their recent slow starts, opening game opponent, expectations and preparation. OGGOA has compiled some of the most important quotes over the last two days, which you can find below:

Redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin on Florida starting slow the last few games: “I think we’ve got to come out more aggressive, looking to attack and looking to pass the ball to each other, just play harder in the first half than we do the second half. We’re going to carry it over to the second half like we always do and play 40 minutes of basketball. We just got to be more aggressive going to the hole and making more plays and extra passes.”

Senior forward Chandler Parsons on the expectations of making a deep run: “I think the biggest thing with us, we can’t worry about expectations. In the beginning of the season, we were preseason Top 10 and people put all these expectations. It’s about what you make of that. As a 2 seed, I think we had a great year and I think we’re very deserving of a 2 seed. The thing is all a 2 seed gives you is just what you’ve done up until now. Basically whatever we’ve done until now is over with and it starts all over again Thursday. We’ve just got to go one game at a time and no matter if we’re a 2 seed or a 10 seed or a 14 seed, we’ve just got to play one game at a time. This is it. When we lose, our three careers are over. So we’ve just got to take it one game at a time.”

Macklin on Santa Barbara: “We know, like Coach [Billy] Donovan said, they have a shooting guard, a small forward that’s pretty aggressive and they know how to put the ball in the hole and win the tournament. In their tournament, their shooting guard averaged 28 points a game for three games and their small forward is putting up 17, and their center was at 12. So that’s an offensively aggressive team and they play great defense, also. We got to go in and play hard against those guys and play hard every single possession.”

Senior F Alex Tyus on having Donovan as a coach: “I think it’s a huge advantage, just knowing that we have a coach that has gotten to a championship game multiple times on this stage, we just really have to take his experience, take what he says and believe in him and follow him and help each other, and we’ll be okay.”

Parsons on losing meaning the end of his Gators career: “It’s huge. Being a senior, this is it for us. And it’s been a great run for us and we’ve had a blast. When we’re out there, we’re going to leave it all out there because we know if we lose a game, that’s it. So we don’t want to have that feeling we had in the locker room after the SEC Tournament against Kentucky. We want to finish our career as a winner. We’re just going to play extremely hard and keep executing our stuff and trying to defend really hard and just do all the things that Coach Donovan has been talking about all year and keep playing the way we’ve been playing.”

Parsons on the four-year journey coming to an end: “I think it’s really special. Being a four-year player, I’ve experienced so much here. I’ve been through many ups and downs and it’s been a great season this year for all we’ve accomplished and all the close games and just the way we’ve all played and battled. Last year I felt like we got a taste of getting back to the NCAA Tournament, and I think that’s really helped us with all the close games we had this year, us being a mature and humble team to come back and that’s really helped us for the tournament run we’re going to make this year. We want to go out a winner.”

Parsons on not having won a NCAA Tournament game yet: “I think positively that we’re hungry. We want to win, we want to win big, and we want to go as far as we possibly can in this tournament. Like I said, last year going into double overtime of BYU, we got a taste of what it’s like and how hard you have to compete just to get a win. Because like I said, it came down to the last possession three times last year and we fell short. But I think it really gave us a good experience getting there, and we have a lot better understanding of it this year.”

Sophomore guard Kenny Boynton on preparation this season: “We’re much better prepared this year. We know what to expect this year. Last year we were so focused on being in the tournament that we got complacent. This year we’re forced more on us.”

Junior point guard Erving Walker on being more experienced: “That’s huge but that doesn’t necessarily automatically you’ll win games. But that should help us out – just being older and being through different situations and knowing what to expect.”

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