Donovan prepares (1) Florida for Final Four as themes surround showdown with (7) UConn

Head coach Billy Donovan and a couple players spoke with the media on Monday, two days before the (1) Florida Gators (36-2) left for Arlington, TX to prepare for their Final Four game against the (7) Connecticut Huskies (30-8). The 2014 NCAA Tournament semifinal is set for 6:09 p.m. on Saturday and scheduled to air live on TBS and TNT.

REMATCH

It’s not often a team goes 36-2 heading into the Final Four, let alone with that program being on a 30-game winning streak and somehow being provided with the opportunity to avenge one of those two losses on its way to a potential national title game.

That is the chance Florida has ahead of it Saturday, though Donovan does not necessarily believe that the two teams having squared off earlier this season does anything more than help both coaching staffs with scouting and preparation.

“It gives you at least a reference point of what you’re dealing with there,” he said. “I think that that from a preparation standpoint for both teams, both teams kind of know each other. We’re not in the same league. We’ve played each other once. It was a long time ago, early December, but the game was played, and both teams were out there competing, and both teams have an idea of size, length, speed, quickness.”

Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin concurred.

“The game was such a long time ago. It feels like it was forever,” he said. “They’re playing their best basketball now, and I feel like we’re doing the same. That’s what you have to be in this position, to be in the Final Four. I don’t expect anything less than for them to play their best game.”

Perhaps the most important thing coming from that Dec. 2, 2013 game was that both teams were able to learn from the contest. UF has used its loss to improve its teamwork and basketball IQ, while UConn has referred to its victory during the latter portion of the season, building confidence from the big win.

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Often overlooked, freshman PG Kasey Hill coming on at perfect time for (1) Florida Gators

For as successful as the (1) Florida Gators have been this season – holding a 36-2 record, sweeping the Southeastern Conference titles, winning 30-straight games, not losing a game in four full months (as of Wednesday) – nearly all of the credit has gone to head coach Billy Donovan and the team’s four-member senior class.

Yet while those five men are certainly the catalysts for Florida’s fantastic season, which to this point has been the best in program history, they are not the only ones making major contributions to the Gators’ success.

Consider for a moment that freshman point guard Kasey Hill, who has played two fewer games and been on the court 431 fewer minutes than senior Scottie Wilbekin, has accumulated 100 assists on the season, just 22 less than the veteran starter.

He averages a half of an assist less per game (3.7-3.2) in 11.7 fewer minutes and leads Florida in assists per 40 minutes (5.8-4.4). While on the floor, Hill assists on 27.6 percent of made field goals, while Wilbekin only participates in 22.5 percent of his teammates.

While Wilbekin’s clutch shooting, stellar defense and ball protection are differentiators that speak to how important he has been for the Gators all season, Hill’s ability to share the ball and speed up tempo with his blazing speed are often overlooked factors when it comes to UF’s success.

“I think he adds a lot to us, especially now at the end of the year. He’s just gotten better as the year’s went on,” said Wilbekin of Hill when discussing the freshman on Monday. “He’s really playing at his best right now, getting in the lane, playing better defense, finding guys. It just adds a lot to our team.”

Continue Reading » Often overlooked, freshman PG Kasey Hill coming on at perfect time for (1) Florida Gators

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Florida-UCLA post-game: Scottie too hottie, bench bonanza, Frazier sets Gators threes record

The (1) Florida Gators (35-2) pulled away late in the second half to take down the (4) UCLA Bruins (28-9) with a 79-68 victory in the Sweet 16 of the 2014 NCAA Tournament at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, TN. After the game, head coach Billy Donovan and some players met with the media to discuss the win.

SCOTTIE TOO HOTTIE

It would be unfair and inaccurate to say senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin is the main reason the Gators won but there is no question that his late-game heroics shut the door on the Bruins and were a catalyst that sent Florida to its fourth Elite Eight in as many seasons.

Starting 2-for-10 from the field and 1-for-7 from beyond the arc, Wilbekin hit his last three shots (one three), scored six-straight points and somehow finished with 13 points, the second-most posted by a UF player on Thursday.

“I just tried to keep attacking, stay aggressive and take what they gave me,” he said. “My shots weren’t falling in the first half, even in the beginning of the second half. So, I just tried to stay the course and keep playing my game.”

Wilbekin’s three makes were not only clutch, each was impressive. First, despite being way off from downtown most of the night, he drained a pull-up three to push Florida ahead by eight. On the very next possession, he took the ball to the rack and was fouled on the way, converting an old-fashioned three-point play that gave the Gators a game-high 11-point lead.

Continue Reading » Florida-UCLA post-game: Scottie too hottie, bench bonanza, Frazier sets Gators threes record

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Fastbreak: (1) Florida blows past (4) UCLA 79-68 in Sweet 16, advances to fourth-straight Elite Eight

The (1) Florida Gators (35-2) advanced to the Elite Eight for the fourth-straight season with a 79-68 victory Thursday over the (4) UCLA Bruins (28-9) in the Sweet 16 of the 2014 NCAA Tournament at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, TN.

Florida improved to 7-1 in Sweet 16 games under head coach Billy Donovan with seven-straight victories that advanced the program to the Elite Eight (2000, 2006-07, 2011-14). The Gators also extended their winning streak to a school-record 29 games and have now claimed victories in 34 of its last 35 contests.

UF is now 4-0 all-time against UCLA (all in NCAA Tournament play).

OnlyGators.com breaks it all down with eight quick-hitters:

It was over when: Freshman point guard Kasey Hill hustled hard for an offensive rebound with 1:35 to play and got fouled as soon as he grabbed it. Hill converted the ensuing free throws to push Florida ahead by nine. Less than 20 seconds later, after the Gators gave up a jumper, senior forward Casey Prather got fed on the fastbreak and slammed home an exclamation point dunk to put the icing on the cake. Hill had a career-high 10 assists to go along with six points and six boards, while Prather chipped in 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the free throw line with three rebounds and two blocks.

Prominent players: Sophomore guard Michael Frazier II carried the scoring burden most of the evening, posting a team-high 19 points on 5-of-8 shooting from downtown with six boards, three assists and a steal. His five triples also set a new school record for most in a single-season as he has now accumulated 115 in the 2013-14 campaign.

However, it was senior PG Scottie Wilbekin who took over late in the second half. Wilbekin scored eight points in less than four minutes, shaking off his 2-for-10 start from the field. Wilbekin wound up with 13 points (second-most on the team) and three dimes despite going 2-for-8 from three. He did not turn the ball over despite playing 35 minutes.

Significant stretch: Leading by one midway through the second half with Prather and senior center Patric Young both on the bench with four fouls, Florida responded to a 7-0 UCLA run with a 10-0 stretch to take a 66-55 lead with 5:34 remaining. Wilbekin, who started 1-for-7 from three, drained a timely triple and converted a And1 attempt on a heavily contested layup for six-straight points to push UF up a game-high 11 points.

Check out the second half of The Fastbreak…after the break.
Continue Reading » Fastbreak: (1) Florida blows past (4) UCLA 79-68 in Sweet 16, advances to fourth-straight Elite Eight

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Next for Chris Walker: NBA or Donovan process?

One way or another, the 2014 NCAA Tournament comes to an end in less than two weeks and a number of Florida Gators will need to sit down and evaluate their basketball-playing careers at that time.

That future remains somewhat decided for Florida’s four seniors, all of whom will first look to the NBA but almost certainly play professional basketball somewhere next season.

A number of other Gators will have a variety of options on the table.

Junior guard Eli Carter must determine whether he believes he will physically be able to play next season when he will be 19 months removed from a broken leg. Sophomore G Dillon Graham, coming off surgery for bone spurs in his hips, will also have to reevaluate his situation at Florida. Even if completely healthy, will he see much playing time in 2014-15 after an infusion of talent arrives at UF in the fall?

Then there’s the five-star freshmen. Though it was point guard Kasey Hill who opened the season as a starter and has seen extensive playing time throughout the campaign, leaving early for the NBA does not appear to be in his cards at this time.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is power forward Chris Walker, who has averaged 1.8 points and 1.4 rebounds in just 5.1 minutes over the 15 games he has played since joining the team late and first taking the court on Feb. 4.

Once considered a sure-fire lottery selection, Walker’s sometimes-haphazard play and lack of collegiate practice time (just over three months) has exposed holes in his game.

Scouts now have questions about whether he could even be a productive rookie – and therefore a worthwhile first-round selection – which has most projecting the draft mocking him in the 20-30 range based purely on athleticism and upside.

As it turns out, Gators head coach Billy Donovan feels the same way.

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Donovan talks one-seed, free throws, distractions

Head coach Billy Donovan spoke with the media on Monday, less than a day after his Florida Gators (32-2) were rewarded for their tremendous season up to this point with the No. 1 overall seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament.

Florida will play its first game in second-round action on Thursday at 4:10 p.m. on TBS from the Amway Center in Orlando, FL against a 16-seed play-in team. Albany and Mount Saint Marys square off on Tuesday at 6:40 p.m. in Dayton, OH in a First Four game that will air live nationally on truTV.

OVERALL NO. 1 FOR THE SECOND TIME

Most statistics about the 2013 Florida football team ended in a negative fashion with “since 1979;” Gators basketball is experiencing the opposite phenomenon with all of its positive records concluding with “since 2007.” The latest has to do with UF earning the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time…since 2007, which is also the last year Florida swept the Southeastern Conference Championships, advanced to the Final Four and won a national title.

“That’s probably a reflection of what’s happened from November all the way to here in March,” said Donovan about the seed. “Once the brackets are out and you’re playing, seedings and things like that, players aren’t thinking about that. They’re thinking about playing and competing and playing to the best of their ability.”

The difference between 2007 and 2014 is that the Gators knew their first opponent seven years ago, when they faced Jackson State. This time, Florida has to deal with the expanded 68-team field and will not learn about the victor of the play-in game set to be held on Tuesday night.

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SEC Tournament Championship in words: Florida Gators past and present talk UF’s fourth title

No. 1 Florida Gators basketball on Sunday became the first team in Southeastern Conference history to go 21-0 in its league games, wrapping up sole possession of the conference crowns with a 61-60 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats for the 2014 SEC Tournament Championship.

Gators past and present had plenty to say about Florida’s effort on Sunday, which clinched the fourth SEC Tournament title in program history and the first since UF won three-straight from 2005-07.

OnlyGators.com takes a look at everything that was said before, during and after the contest through the eyes of some of the people that know the team the best.

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Fastbreak: No. 1 Florida routs South Carolina 72-46 as Michael Frazier sets Gators threes record

Sophomore guard Michael Frazier II scored a career-high 37 points and set a new school record with 11 three-pointers in a single game as the No. 1 Florida Gators (28-2, 17-0 SEC) dismantled the South Carolina Gamecocks (11-19, 4-13 SEC) in the second half and ended the game on a 33-11 run on the way to a 72-46 win at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, SC on Tuesday night.

Florida extended its school-record winning streak to 22 games and continued a number of other program-best marks including winning 17 SEC games in a single season.

OnlyGators.com breaks it all down with seven quick-hitters:

It was over when: After draining five three-pointers in the first half, Frazier was held without one for the first nine minutes of the second period. Suddenly, with his team leading by just four points, Frazier exploded with four made triples in a span of 3:27 to extend Florida’s advantage to 22 points with 7:36 to play.

Prominent player: He eventually finished with 11 threes, breaking a 17-year school school mark for most in a single game (Joe Lawrence, nine, 1986). Those 11 treys were also the third-most made in a single game by an SEC player and the most ever in an SEC league game. Frazier’s 37 points were a career-high, matching Joakim Noah (March 1, 2006) for most in a single game under head coach Billy Donovan. He finished 11-for-18 from beyond the arc on the evening, also becoming the first UF player since Anthony Roberson (2005) to attempt that many threes in a single contest.

“The ball felt good in warm-ups. My shot looked good, felt good. And then in the game, my teammates did a great job finding me. I was able to get in the zone there but I didn’t really feel anything, I was just there and the ball went in,” he said after the game. “It was a total team effort. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them finding me. It was a total team effort. We defended as a team, rebounded the ball as a team in the second half, and we were connected. The ball was just able to go into the hoop for me tonight, but it was a total team effort winning.”

Check out the second half of The Fastbreak…after the break.
Continue Reading » Fastbreak: No. 1 Florida routs South Carolina 72-46 as Michael Frazier sets Gators threes record

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