Gameday: (7) Florida Gators vs. Marquette

Event: SEC/BIG EAST Challenge
Location: Stephen C. O’Connell Center – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 12,000]
Time: 9:00 p.m. EDT

TV: ESPN2/ESPN2HD (Dave Pasch, Fran Fraschilla)
SiriusXM: 113/191 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Online Video: WatchESPN.com | Mobile Video: WatchESPN app
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter and SportsYapper app

No. 7 FLORIDA GATORS MARQUETTE GOLDEN EAGLES
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Buzz Williams
Record: 5-0 Record: 5-1
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Big East
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -11 | O/U 137.5

HISTORY / STREAKS / STATS

» Florida is 1-2 all-time against Marquette, earning its first victory just last season in the Sweet 16 round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. UF is 16-10 all-time against the Big East under Donovan but 0-2 in scheduled non-conference regular season games against the league with a pair of losses to Syracuse (2009, 2011).
» Four Gators starters are averaging double figures.
» Florida has held three of its five opponents to 45 points or fewer. The Gators have only given up 26 points or more in a single half twice so far this campaign.
» UF dominated in its season opener, holding Alabama State to just nine first-half points and setting a school record in the shot clock era for fewest allowed in a half.
» Florida is 30-1 since the beginning of the 2011-12 season when holding opponents under 71 points in a game.
» The Gators were just 3-5 against top-25 opponents last season with all five losses coming to top-three teams. UF is currently scheduled to take on seven top-25 opponents as part of the 2012-13 campaign and is already 1-0 in such games.
» Florida is second nationally in scoring defense (48.4 points) and ninth in both scoring margin (+23.8 points per game) and field goal percentage defense (.337).
» The Gators are 174th nationally in assists, dishing just 13 per game.
» The Golden Eagles are ranked in the top-25 nationally in both assists (17.7) and overall field goal percentage (.491).
» Marquette has received huge contributions from its bench this season. Reserves are averaging 35 points and 22 rebounds per game while shooting 55.6 percent from the field and 38.7 percent from downtown.
» The Golden Eagles have 10 players averaging double-digit minutes.
» Marquette is 75-7 since 2008-09 when out-shooting its opponent from the field.

Read the rest of the Florida-Marquette preview…more information after the break!

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Gators discuss advancing to the Elite Eight

No. 7-seed Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan and guards freshman Bradley Beal and junior Kenny Boynton spoke after Thursday’s Sweet 16 victory over the No. 3-seed Marquette Golden Eagles about the hard-fought victory and advancing to the Elite Eight round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Florida will face No. 4-seed Louisville on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. live on CBS.

IT ALL STARTS WITH THE COACH

The Gators are experiencing a spectacular turnaround, no doubt, and while Beal and the team’s bench has been a large part of it, Donovan is certainly the catalyst for the change the team has undergone recently. Asked how he has gotten his team to adjust and do more this season, Donovan (like any good coach) gave his players all of the credit.

“We’ve got really good kids. When adversity hits during the course of the year, I’m not so sure they know exactly how to handle it,” he said. “I asked [Brad] one time, ‘What’s the most difficult part for you playing in college?’ He said, ‘Dealing with adversity and dealing with bad games because I didn’t have a lot of those in high school.’ Because he was always the best player on the floor. Even for Patric, too, the grind and having to come every single day. When you’re relied upon for the first time in your life by other players and a coaching staff and people, there’s a responsibility that comes with that. So when it doesn’t go well, a lot of times they don’t know how to handle it.

“Going through some of those adversities that they had to go through has forced them to kind of grow and mature. With Erik [Murphy], I told him at halftime, I think he was 0-5; I told him, ‘I want you to shoot it every time you’re open and if I see you not shooting the ball with confidence, I’m taking you out of the game. You have a responsibility to every guy in this room that when you shoot the ball, you got to expect it to go in. If it doesn’t, we’ll be fine.’ [...] Just trying to push those guys into positions where they’re being forced to grow up. Everybody handles it differently.

“They are such good kids that they want to do well. Sometimes they just need some help to get through those difficult times.”

It doesn’t hurt that Donovan is an exceptional coach or – as Marquette head coach Buzz Williams put it – “He’s just class.” Williams continued, “He does it for the right reasons. I don’t think his ego gets in the way. You talk about a guy that has won two national championships and he’s only 46 years old. And he’s won over 400 games. And he’s won 28 games now in the NCAA Tournament. And he still talks to you and he still looks you in the eye and he says, ‘How ya doin’?’ I appreciate that.

“There’s a lot of guys in our business that don’t do that. Because sometimes they think they win because of who they are. I think he’s been raised in the business the right way, and I just have the utmost respect for him. I think he’ll be like some of the guys in our league – he’ll be in the hall of fame and still coach 10 more years. You know what I mean? I think he’ll be in the hall of fame before he’s 55 years old. There are very few of those guys, very few of those guys. I have great respect for who he is.”

BEAL’S EMERGENCE CONTINUES

Having learned to play more aggressively and no longer as concerned about getting in his teammates’ way, Beal has exploded over the last five games. He is averaging 17 points on 54 percent shooting (43 percent from downtown) with 8.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.4 blocks in the five games that have made up the 2012 postseason. His improved level of play is easily recognizable and obviously quite praiseworthy.

“Brad is really unique. He’s a great kid. Actually he’s a much better kid than he is a player, that will give you an idea what it is like coaching him,” Donovan said. “I had a hard time with him early in the year because I think when you come out of high school you automatically – as decorated as he was – there is this expectation not only for himself but people around him who know him and watched him play and think that he’s just going to step on this stage and just be this star.

“He struggled shooting the ball early in November and December and he didn’t handle it well. At times he could get a little moody and a little pouty. He just didn’t know how to handle it. I think he realized when he wasn’t shooting the ball well that there are other parts of his game he could step up and really impact the game with his driving, with his rebounding, with his assists. The one thing that’s great about him is he’s a total chemistry guy. I’ve been around a lot of really good players that they can make it all about themselves. He has great respect for the returning players. He doesn’t necessarily want to step on anybody’s toes. He’s very much aware of where his place is on the team. He never, ever is disrespectful to players.

“He’s got a great awareness as a young kid of what team chemistry is all about. I’d say he’s a great facilitator of team chemistry. He’s really very unique in that way. He’s got a great presence and a confidence in himself but it’s not an arrogance and an over-the-top where he actually views himself being better than someone else. Our guys, with him coming in, you can’t do anything else but love him because of the way he conducts himself.”

Beal agreed with the notion that Thursday as probably the best game of his UF career and explained how he has turned the corner recently. “Before the games, I’m aware of the stage. I get caught up in the moment or whatever. But once the ball is thrown in the air, I block everything out and just focus in on the game and what the team needs to do to win,” he said. I know it’s a big crowd and everything like that, but I just stay humble, stay grounded and focus on what the team needs to do. [...] I had a lot of confidence in myself tonight as well as my teammates. I found ways to get open, just stayed aggressive and tried to make plays.”

On the other side of the court, Williams was very cognizant of Beal’s effectiveness and simply could not stop him during the contest. “I think he’s really good. Nothing against Erving Walker. Nothing against Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy, Patric Young. In a lot of ways, I think Bradley Beal is their swing vote because he’s so multi-versatile, talented, can guard multiple guys,” he said. “He plays multiple positions whether they’re small, whether they’re big. He can beat you off the bounce, using their ball screens; he can catch and shoot. I think he is their leading rebounder, isn’t he? I think he’s really good. I mean he missed two shots. That’s a heck of a line. Really good.”

BACK TO THE ELITE EIGHT

Florida may have found its way back to the Elite Eight for the second-straight season and fourth time since 2006, but Donovan has had to make a lot of changes from the team that made their run one year ago. He admitted that it has been “really hard” to get to this point in the season.

“Our team is totally different than it was a year ago,” he said. “We were such a long, big, experienced team with [Vernon] Macklin and [Alex] Tyus and [Chandler] Parsons all being seniors. Then we had Erving Walker, a junior, and we had some good young guys come off the bench that played spot minutes in Patric and Scottie [Wilbekin]. We’re a lot younger and a lot different and play a lot different than we did a year ago. It’s a great compliment to those guys and how hoard they’ve worked, the schedule that we’ve played, them wanting to learn and grow and get better. I’m very proud of them and very happy that we’ve been able to move on this far in the tournament.”

Donovan is not the only one pleased to be back to the Elite Eight. Boynton also expressed his delight in his team’s accomplishment and believes that a tough regular season prepared the Gators for this opportunity. “It means a lot. It goes to show the losses early in the season made us stronger,” he said. “Before the NCAA Tournament, we had seen every defense and offense there could be. Those losses fueled us to this point in time. We’re happy to be here.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Donovan on making sure the team drives the paint during the game: “We don’t have, per se, an offensive-dominant post player. I think Patric has gotten better and he’s made good growth and he’s improved. But he’s not that offensive player you can just dump the ball inside to him. When he gets great position, he’s an effective scorer. You still have to put pressure on at the basket – one to get to the free throw line and two to get yourself some easy baskets. Because of the way we can shoot the ball and space the floor, we’ve got to try to put the ball on the floor and get into the paint and create some help, which opens up maybe getting fouled, finishing at the basket and/or if there is a collapse we can kick out and knock down some open shots. We’ve got to have a paint presence.”

» Donovan on his former head coach, Louisville’s Rick Pitino: “Outside of my parents he’s been the most influential person in my life. I’m very thankful for the opportunities that he’s provided me as a player, as a coach, the relationship that we’ve shared for more than 25 years. When you’re in this profession, now for me more than 25 years, you have situations where former assistants [and coaches play each other]. The game is really about the players that are playing in the game, that are going to be competing on Saturday because both teams have earned the right to play. The competition part of it will never ever get in the way, for me, with our relationship ever.”

» Donovan on Florida’s bench: “I thought we were going to need to use our bench, especially in this game. [...] That was encouraging that we could rely on them. [...] With the injury to Will Yeguete and their roles all being kind of in flux so to speak as we tried to figure it out, those guys have really settled in to understanding what they need to do.”

» Beal on Murphy finding a “mean streak”: “Murphy’s just being aggressive on both ends of the floor. Coach is always on his butt about rebounding in practice. It’s just carrying over to the game. He’s doing a tremendous job for us just grabbing the ball and being strong with it, rebounding on both ends pretty well for us.”

» Boynton on weathering the run by Marquette: “After the steal on Erving, we knew that they could be back in the game easily. I think we buckled down, started taking care of the ball and told each other, whoever is at the free throw line, just knock down the free throws.”

» Beal on being assertive when shots aren’t falling: “Whenever you’re missing shots from the outside, you should just keep attacking the basket. If you’re wide open, of course coach wants us to take them, but you just have to be more aggressive and keep attacking the basket – start inside and come back outside.”

» Beal on the Gators’ bench: “Our bench did a tremendous job. Mike [Rosario] came off the bench and provided a lot of help on both ends of the floor. He had a big layup for us in the first half. Scottie is always doing a great job playing great defense, and Casey is always tremendous as well on the boards. Those three guys out there really contributed a lot tonight.”

» Williams on Florida’s bench: “That’s one of the reasons why they’re so potent. Bradley Beal plays more minutes than any of them and that’s because he can swing to the four if they’re playing small. We played Rosario when he was at Rutgers. He was a McDonald’s All-American. So when you have a McDonald’s All-American coming off the bench that speaks to your depth.”

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NCAA Sweet 16: (7) Florida vs. (3) Marquette

Location: US Airways Center – Phoenix, AZ [Capacity: 18, 422]
Time: 10:17 p.m. (ET)

TV: TBS/TBSHD
SiriusXM: 93/191
Online Video: TBS.com
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

(7) FLORIDA GATORS (3) MU GOLDEN EAGLES
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Buzz Williams
Record: 25-10 Record: 27-7
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Big East
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida +2; O/U 146.5

KNOW THE OPPONENT

No. 3-seed Marquette, which has won 15 of their last 18 games dating back to Jan. 11, registered a dominant second-round victory (88-68) over Brigham Young before taking down No. 6-seed Murray State in third-round action to advance to the Sweet 16. The Golden Eagles went 15-5 against Big East opponents in 2011-12 but lost by 17 to Vanderbilt, the only SEC team they played this season.

Forward Jae Crowder, the 2012 Big East Player of the Year, is Marquette’s top weapon, averaging 17.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.0 block in 33.0 minutes per game. He also shots .504 from the field, .353 from three and .732 from the line. Joining him in leading the Golden Eagles is guard Darius Johnson-Odom, who averages 18.5 points and shoots 38.9 percent from downtown. Marquette does not have any other double-digit scorers but features five other players that see at least 19 minutes of action and score at least 6.5 points per game.

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Florida is making its 15th NCAA Tournament appearance all-time and 12th under Donovan. The Gators are 31-12 all time in the event (27-9 under Donovan) with two national titles in three championship game appearances and four trips to the Final Four. The team is making its seventh Sweet 16 appearance and is hoping to earn its sixth-ever and second-straight trip to the Elite Eight.
» Marquette leads the all-time series against Florida 2-0 winning consecutive games in the 1970s. UF, however, is 16-9 against Big East teams under Donovan.
» The Gators are the first team in the history of the NCAA Tournament to score more than 70 points and allow 50 points or fewer in its first two games.
» The Golden Eagles are making their 30th NCAA Tournament appearance all-time and fifth under Williams. Marquette is in the Sweet 16 for the 15th time and is hoping to reach their seventh Elite Eight and first since 2003.
» Florida has made a three in 686 consecutive games dating back to Jan. 1992.
» The Gators have registered a school record and nation-high in three-pointers this season with 342 over 35 games; the 9.8 treys per game is No. 1 in the country.
» All five of UF’s normal starters are averaging 10.3 points per game or more.
» Florida is 18-2 (two losses to Kentucky) this year when posting a positive assist-to-turnover ratio and are just 7-8 when the margin is even or negative.
» The Gators are 238-39 since 1998-99 when recording 15 or more assists in a game and 290-37 since 1988-89 when holding opponents under 70 points.
» UF is 6-6 against the NCAA Tournament field with four losses coming against No. 1 seeds (Kentucky, Syracuse) and one to a No. 2 seed (Ohio State). Conversely, MU is 9-6 against the same field with losses to a No. 1 seed (Syracuse), No. 3 seed (Georgetown), two No. 4 seeds (Louisville) and a No. 5 seed (Vanderbilt) and others.

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Donovan, Gators preview Sweet 16 match-up

No. 7-seed Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan, senior point guard Erving Walker and junior guard Kenny Boynton took the podium in Phoenix, AZ on Wednesday do discuss their upcoming Sweet 16 game against the No. 3-seed Marquette Golden Eagles on Thursday at 10:17 p.m. The game, which is part of the West Region of the 2012 NCAA Tournament, will air live on TBS.

BUZZ WILLLIAMS THE ODD MAN OUT

There is no denying that the West Region’s Sweet 16 is filled with three of the most accomplished active college basketball coaches – Florida’s Donovan, Louisville’s Rick Pitino, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo – and then Marquette’s Buzz Williams. Asked how he compares with the other three, Williams was humble and praised their accomplishments.

“I don’t belong. I don’t compare,” he said. “Those three guys are the ultimate example of what this business should be about as people, the ultimate example of what it should be about as coaches. I have great admiration for them. I have studied them throughout my career as guys that you yearn to be somewhat like. Relative to: Buzz, Donvoan, Izzo and Pitino, which one doesn’t belong? That’s the easiest question to answer.”

Though that may be the case, Donovan is impressed with Williams’s accomplishments so far and believes he can reach the next level if he keeps working toward that goal. “Everybody has to start somewhere. All of us – Coach Pitini, Tom Izzo, myself, Buzz. You have to start somewhere. Buzz has done a phenomenal job with Marquette since he took over for Tom Crean,” he said.

Donovan also discussed how much of an influence Pitino has had on him as a person and his career as a basketball coach. “I’m incredibly impacted by him not even so much with the basketball part of it,” he said. “I look at myself as maybe not being a high-profile player and what he was able to do to me and the way he was able to transform me. I think that’s where it starts for me in our program work-ethic wise, getting guys that love the game, that want to get better, want to improve and want to invest that kind of time. The other part of it for me with him was game preparation, scouting, individual player development, practices – all those things.”

WILBEKIN BREAKING OUT AT THE RIGHT TIME

While another Gators’ guard is also having a nice tournament, sophomore PG Scottie Wilbekin continues to have a breakout season. Not only is Wilbekin shooting the best percentage from three on the team (.444), he has been even more efficient in the postseason, connecting on 55.5 percent of his shots (5-of-9) from downtown.

Even with his stellar shooting being the area in which he has improved the most, Wilbekin’s defense is what earns the most praise from his coach and teammates.

“When a guy bypasses his senior year in high school, the first thing you worry about is if he’s physically strong enough, if he’ll get knocked around and what kind of foot speed does he have. The one thing that enabled him to play last year and now this year is he’s a great defender with great feet and he’s also a physically strong guard, he can physically defend,” Donovan said. “He has been one of our better defenders on the perimeter the last couple of years, and he takes great pride in that. His offense has continued to get better. We can put him on a lot of different people and he can really defend.”

Walker recognized this proficiency as well. “I think Scottie has improved a great deal since he first came here,” he said. “He’s always been a great defender, but I think his offense is improving game-by-game and he’s playing with a lot of confidence.” Boynton was more focused on his shooting, of course. “I think Scottie, he made a big jump skipping his senior year in high school. When he came into college, he worked hard and he’s handled it well. Lately he’s been hitting some outside shots and I think as the year has gone on, his offense has gotten better and better,” he added.

FLORIDA’S EFFICIENCY VS. CROWDER’S EFFECTIVENESS

Williams is extremely concerned about Florida’s offense. Coaches often know the opposition’s statistics off the top of their heads when preparing for a game, but every time Williams mentioned one on Wednesday, he looked slightly deflated at what his team would have to go up against. He was impressed that a team like UF could not only be so efficient on offense but also on the offensive glass when not getting shots in the net.

“They’re really good. A lot has been made of how many threes they shoot and how many threes they make. Their perimeter players have shot 53 percent of their shots [from three] and they’ve made 37 percent of them. They make a lot of threes and they make a lot of dunks,” he said. “A lot of that comes from transition, and if it doesn’t come from transition it is going to come from a ball screen. I think that Coach Donovan has been ahead of the curve relative to college basketball in doing a lot of the same things that are done in the NBA.

“We reverse the ball side-top-side typically off the pass and they reverse the ball side-top-side off the ball screen. If you can’t slow them down or stop them in transition, your ball screen coverage has to be superb. Because if it forces you into rotation, they’re either going to make a dunk or make an uncontested three. They rebound 38 percent of their misses – that’s a very high number. Long shots equal long rebounds, but if they’re shooting 37 percent from the three and 53 percent of the shots that those guys shoot are threes but yet they’re rebounding 38 percent of those misses, that’s really, really good.”

Donovan is equally worried except his concerns are mostly about Marquette F Jae Crowder, who scores 17.6 points while averaging 8.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He is also shooting 50.4 percent from the floor and 35.3 percent from beyond the arc.

“He impacts the game maybe more so than any other player in the country in every facet,” Donovan said of Crowder. “He’s a tremendous offensive rebounder. He’s a great defender. He comes up with loose basketballs, deflections. He is a great outlet passer to start the break. He has incredible stamina with the way he can run up and down the floor. He shoots threes; he puts it down [on the floor]. Maybe the most underrated part of his game is he’s a phenomenal passer. He really can impact the game in just about every possible way. I love his motor and love how hard he plays and love the way he competes.”

Crowder also spoke about playing the Gators but took a slight shot at the team while doing so. “They are a great offensive team. They lack a few things defensively,” he said. “Of course, they bring great pressure in the frontcourt and try to get you rattled a little bit. I think if we handle that, we’ll get a lot of things we want offensively.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Former Florida center Neal Walk was on-hand to watch the Gators practice for the Sweet 16 game, according to The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway. Walk, the highest-drafted UF player in team history (No. 2 overall) lives in Phoenix and had said he was “pleased that I can see them up close.” He also spoke to Brockway about Donovan. “He has taken the program and put it among the elites,” Walk said. “I know that guys of my time are very happy that Florida basketball is now able to be mentioned with Florida football.”

» Donovan on struggling at the end of the regular season and turning things around: “Certainly as it relates to wins and losses, no, we did not close out the regular season very well. [...] I saw our team making strides and getting better. The biggest thing I try to do is I try to keep their confidence level high that they were doing the right things and these were the things that we really needed to confront and get better at to kind of push us over the hump a little bit.”

» Walker on Florida not panicking after the tough end to the regular season: “We definitely didn’t hit the panic button but we knew it was time to buckle down, listen to coach and have some great practices before we got to the NCAA Tournament. I think it has definitely paid off for us.”

» Donovan on sophomore guard/forward Casey Prather’s illness: “He’s fine now. It shouldn’t’ be a problem. [...] He’s 100 percent and hasn’t missed anything since [the third-round game].”

» Donovan on if it is tougher to build a program up or maintain a high level of success: “It’s always harder to try and maintain, in my opinion. The reason I say that is that, when you’re trying to build something, once you’ve built something, trying to maintain it is so difficult because there are so many peaks and valleys and there are drop-offs. The energy and the passion and the drive that it takes day-in and day-out to try to maintain something is very difficult. You can get to the pinnacle and then, a lot of times, there’s going to be a dip and there’s going to be a drop. Do you have the energy to try and build back up or maintain where it’s been?”

» Donovan on the role that conditioning will play in the game: “The game will certainly be a fast game. With the way we play and the way that they play, conditioning probably in both of our practices will probably be a premium. You’re doing that in practice where you’re trying to condition to play that way. That’s the thing that’s so impressive with Crowder is how many minutes he can actually stay on the floor with the intensity level he plays at.”

» Williams on if his team can keep up with UF’s conditioning: “They’ll play more guys that will play more meaningful possessions than we will. [...] I don’t think because of how we operate that conditioning is going to be a problem.”

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