Beal, Boynton still mulling futures with Gators

There was a grave concern at one point that the Florida Gators could lose as many as five players following the 2011-12 season as freshman guard Bradley Beal and sophomore center Patric Young flashed NBA potential, senior point guard Erving Walker was set to graduate and many believed junior guards Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario were questioning whether or not to remain with the team.

That number has already dwindled down to a maximum of three as Young and Rosario have both expressed their intention to remain in school at least one more year. Young will be a junior in 2012-13 and Rosario will play his second year in orange and blue before hopefully graduating as a redshirt senior.

However, the future of the other two players remains up in the air as Beal and Boynton have yet to officially decide on the path they will take in their respective careers.

According to The Gainesville Sun‘s Kevin Brockway, Boynton may be near a decision that will put a smile on the faces of Florida fans. “Boynton’s father, Kenny Boynton Sr., said he expects his son to return for his senior season,” Brockway wrote on Thursday.

NBA scouts do not consider Boynton to be talented enough to select in the second round of the 2012 NBA Draft due to the fact that he remains somewhat inconsistent with his shot (even after taking a huge step forward last season), is not proficient enough at driving to the hoop and is undersized for a shooting guard yet does not have the proper handle or experience to run the point. Should he decide to leave school, chances are Boynton would wind up playing somewhere overseas.

Beal, on the other hand, is a consensus top-10 pick who is expected by most analysts to be one of the first five players selected in the draft. He has been ranked as high as No. 3 overall and could certainly go that high depending on the needs of the teams selecting in the top potion of the first round.

That does not mean his path is necessarily leading him away from Gainesville, FL.

“I know it’s going to be a hard decision for him,” Bobby Beal, Bradley’s father, told Brockway on Thursday. “Some people say [leaving] is a no-brainer, but I know that he loves college, loves the atmosphere down there.”

There are two other factors in addition to loving college that could lead him back to Florida. He was reportedly extremely disappointed that the Gators did not reach the Final Four (seeing the goal as unfinished business) and remains close friends with Young, who has already decided to return and continue his Florida career.

The Sun reports that Beal is currently on his way back to his hometown of St. Louis, MO to see his family and begin discussions about what to do with his future. Where he would be selected in the draft is likely of little concern to Beal as there is no chance he would fall out of the lottery and a slim chance he would even make it past No. 5 overall.

With the decision deadline of Tuesday, April 10 rapidly approaching, expect Beal to announce where he will ctoninue his playing career sooner than later.

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3/24: Florida vs. Louisville post-game notes

The No. 7-seed Florida Gators saw their season come to an end on Saturday as they fell 72-68 to the No. 4-seed Louisville Cardinals in the Elite Eight round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Florida head coach Billy Donovan, senior point guard Erving Walker and freshman guard Bradley Beal all spoke following the game.

ELITE ACHING

Blowing a double-digit second-half lead in the Elite Eight for the second time in as many seasons, things were somber at the podium when the Gators took a seat. It was especially unnerving for Walker who was the only player on the court who knew for certain that it would be his final game in a Florida uniform.

“It feels terrible. We had a lead; we gave it up late,” he said. “We just didn’t make shots down the end and didn’t defend them well. They were able to get down the lane and make some big plays. [...] We knew they were going to make a run at some point. That’s a great team in Louisville. We thought we had control of it and we thought we would be able to keep them at bay, but they just continued to make plays and took the lead.”

Walker said the entire locker room was “hurting” but even that bad feeling would not change what he has gone through since joining the Gators. “I had a great four years here. I had the best four years of my life,” he said.

Both players also expressed their sorrow that Florida had to lose at this point, so close to reaching their ultimate goal. “We had a good journey. We’re disappointed that it had to end right here, but when you reflect back later you realize we did a great thing by making it to the Elite Eight,” Walker said. Beal added, “It was a tough journey for us. A lot of people counted us out. We stuck with it, and we played together as a team. We got this far – I’m real proud of my guys. It was just unfortunate that we ended up losing today.”

Walker ends his career in orange and blue with his name littered throughout the team’s all-time record book. He leads Florida in career assists (547) and minutes (4,358) and comes in second in game played (144) and three-point field goals both made (285) and attempted (755). Walker is also fourth in scoring (1,777), fifth in games started (113) and total field goal attempts (1,345), seventh in both free throws made (436) and attempted (552), and ninth in steals (159).

IF HE HAD TO LOSE…

Obviously Donovan hoped to lead his team to their first Final Four berth since 2007 but if he had to fall in the Elite Eight there is no other coach he would rather lose to than Louisville’s Rick Pitino. “If someone said to me, ‘You have to lose a game. Who would it be to?’ I’d have to say him,” he said. “Obviously he’s towards the end of his career.”

Donovan then went on a mini-rant in hopes of bolstering his former coach’s hall of fame chances. “I’ve never said this publicly, but I’ll say it here. I’m absolutely shocked he’s not in the hall of fame. Shocked. It should have happened a long time ago, in my opinion,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a coach in the country that has done more with less. And believe me, I was on a team with a lot of less. He’s done it when Kentucky was on probation, a second time taking Louisville to a Final Four. To me, that’s what I’d like to see happen for him as he finishes it up. It hurts me, it hurts our team losing but to see him [win and continue on], I’ll be very happy for him.”

There are plenty of reasons Florida lost on Saturday but one of them was the coaching of Pitino and specifically his decision to switch from a 2-3 zone to man-to-man defense in the second half. The Cardinals were able to make the Gators take more difficult threes and continued to force UF to turn the ball over.

“The difference in the game, if you look at it, was our 14 turnovers to their six,” Donovan said. “They didn’t really turn us over much in the press, it was more in the half court, handling and making decisions and recognizing what was open. At times we did not do that. [...] At this time of the season, against the [quality of] teams you’re playing against, you know teams are going to make a run at you. That’s going to happen. They made a great run, and I give them a lot of credit.”

A TOUGH WAY TO GO OUT

Reporters, analysts and fans will draw a lot of similarities between the Gators’ collapse in 2012 to the way the team folded under pressure in 2011’s Elite Eight. Donovan, however, does not feel the same way and believes that Florida played much better in this contest than last year’s team did in their final game of the season.

“Totally different actually. Last year we really got beat on loose balls. I didn’t feel like we got beat there. I felt like our guys did a great job on loose balls. There were a couple that got away from us. I really thought that, for the most part, we really played the right way and played a pretty good game,” he said. “I think we had some defensive breakdowns a couple times. I also thought offensively we were way too rushed.”

The Gators losing on Saturday is undoubtedly a disappointment, but Donovan said it will not take anything away from his memories of the 2011-12 season.

“[I will remember this team as] a team that was really young and immature in a lot of ways and, in front of my eyes, I got to watch them grow up and mature competitively,” he said proudly. “To see where Patric Young was at the start of the year in January to where he finished. To see where Brad was in November and December to see where he finished – same thing with Erik Murphy. Our guys grew up, and I think that was one of my biggest difficulties with them during the course of the season.

“There was an immature competitiveness about them. I don’t mean that negatively; they just didn’t understand what it took. Because of them being great kids, it was great to see them mature and grow that way because you don’t get to this point in time unless you have some substance. And I think our guys have some substance and some toughness and some qualities. They poured their heart and soul into trying to win the game.”

NIKE “RISE AS ONE” GRAPHIC PACKAGE

As part of the company’s Rise As One campaign, Nike sent us over a wide variety of graphics that you can use to decorate your computer/tablet desktop, Twitter profile, Facebook profile or iPhone. You can find all of the files below.

Florida Gator Head logo
Twitter profile | background | Facebook profile 1 | profile 2 | cover

Nike Gator Head crest logo
Twitter profile | background | Facebook profile 1 | profile 2 | cover | iPhone background

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Beal on if the bitter end to the season changes his decision-making process at all: “I’m really not even focusing on next year right now. I’m still affected by this loss right now. I’m just going to focus in and bond with the team still. We just had a tough loss; I’m really not focusing on the future right now.”

» Beal on his travel at the end of the game: “I just had bad footing. I travelled. I travelled but he may have bumped me but whatever. I still have to be strong with the ball and just learn my surroundings and be more careful in those situations.”

» Walker on the players returning to the team: “This program is still on the [rise]. They got a lot of great players, and I think Coach Donovan will continue to do a great job. I think they’ll get to the Final Four next year.”

» Donovan on wishing Pitino got more respect from Kentucky’s fans and administration: “He could have gone anywhere else and there would be statues built of him in Lexington with what he’s done. Because of that rivalry there’s some people that can’t handle it. I just wish the people back there, the whole state would just embrace him for the job that he’s done at both programs.”

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Florida chokes away Final Four berth for second-straight year, falls to Louisville 72-68 in Elite Eight

Leading by 11 points with 8:14 left in the game, the No. 7-seed Florida Gators (26-11) collapsed and were outscored 18-3 down the stretch, falling 72-68 to the No. 4-seed Louisville Cardinals (30-9) in the Elite Eight round in the West Region of the 2012 NCAA Tournament at the US Airways Center in Phoenix, AZ.

It was the second-straight year that Florida choked away an opportunity to advance to the Final Four by blowing a double-digit lead they carried more than midway through the second half. The Gators scored just three points while hitting just 1-of-12 shots over the final 8:14. UF also went 1-for-4 down from the free throw line down the stretch and went 0-for-9 from three-point range over the final 20 minutes.

Florida opened up the contest on a quick 7-0 run but Louisville one-upped them, answering with a 10-0 run of their own by forcing three turnovers and hitting a pair of treys. However, a three from the corner by UF junior forward Erik Murphy evened the score at 10-10 with 13:35 remaining in the first half.

The Gators regained some momentum but were unable to pull away as the Cardinals forced a shot clock violation (UF’s fifth turnover in the first 12 minutes of the game) and tied it up at 19-19 on a jumper by guard Peyton Silva, Jr. Florida then erupted on a barrage of baskets and threes, outscoring Louisville 20-10 while making five triples to take a 39-29 lead with 1:58 left until the break.

UF held on to most of that advantage down the stretch, going into the locker rooms with an eight-point lead while shooting 66.7 percent from the field and 72.7 percent (8-of-11) from downtown. UL kept it close by not only forcing five turnovers but also attempting 11 more shots in the first 20 minutes.

The Cardinals took it to the Gators early in the second half, using a 7-0 run to cut their deficit to three. Florida and Louisville jockeyed for position until UF found themselves back ahead eight with 12:31 left after sophomore center Patric Young threw down a monstrous slam on an alley-oop from senior point guard Erving Walker.

The Gators continued scoring and went up a game-high 11 points on the Cardinals, 58-47 with 10:56 remaining, concluding an 8-2 run with four consecutive free throws by Walker which came following a foul by Siva and technical on Pitino.

Louisville refused to relent and got right back in the game moments later, exploding on a 12-1 run to tie it at 66 with 3:10 left. The Gators went ice cold, missing four baskets and three-of-four free throws to allow the Cardinals to wipe out their advantage.

Florida junior G Kenny Boynton knocked in a jumper to put the Gators back up two with 2:43 left, but UF missed their final seven shots (three treys) and gave UL multiple opportunities to gain and extend their lead. Down one with 25 seconds left, Beal intercepted a pass but immediately travelled, committing Florida’s 14th turnover of the game and allowing Louisville to take a three-point lead on two free throws.

Beal and Boynton each missed a three on the team’s second-to-last possession, and the Cardinals knocked in another free throw to ice the game and their ninth Final Four berth.

The Gators fell to 21-2 this season when leading at the half and failed to be the first No. 7-seed to reach the Final Four since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Florida head coach Billy Donovan also remained winless (0-7) in his career against Louisville head coach Rick Pitino with the loss.

Turnovers were the primary difference in the game. The Cardinals forced 14 and scored 15 points off those miscues while only committing six of their own (the Gators did not capitalize on any of them).

Florida outshot Louisville from the field (.500-.450) and downtown (.400-.375), but UL took 12 more attempts from the field and were more accurate from the charity stripe (.800-.667). The Gators also won the rebounding battle 32-27; however, the Cardinals got 22 points from their bench while UF’s only contributed five.

Florida dropped an Elite Eight contest to Butler in similar fashion one year ago, leading by 11 points with 9:26 remaining but allowing their opponent to tie the contest with less than four minutes remaining. Butler wound up winning 74-71 in overtime.

G Russ Smith led the way for Louisville with a game-high 19 points, and F Chane Behanan joined him at the top of the box score with 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting.

The Gators got 14 points each from Beal (6-of-12) and Murphy (4-of-5, 2-for-2 from three), who combined to grab 15 rebounds. All five Florida started scored in double figures with Boynton and Walker each posting 12 and Young contributing 11 (on 5-of-7 shooting) along with six boards.

UF now heads home earlier than they hoped for the second-straight season and awaits word from three of their players about their future. Beal, Young and Boyton will all consider turning pro and declaring for the 2012 NBA Draft though Young has already said he plans to return for his junior season and Boynton is not expected to depart.

Photo Credit: Chris Carlson/Associated Press

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NCAA Elite Eight: (7) Florida vs. (4) Louisville

Location: US Airways Center – Phoenix, AZ [Capacity: 18,422]
Time: 4:30 p.m. (ET)

TV: CBS/CBSHD
SiriusXM: 91
Online Video: CBS.com
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

(7) FLORIDA GATORS (4) LOUISVILLE CARDINALS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Rick Pitino
Record: 26-10 Record: 29-9
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Big East
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -1; O/U 132

KNOW THE OPPONENT

No. 4-seed Louisville, which has won seven-straight games including four in a row to win the 2012 Big East Tournament, edged out Davidson and New Mexico in the second and third rounds before registering a dominant 57-44 victory in the West Region’s other Sweet 16 game over No. 1-seed Michigan State. The Cardinals went 10-8 in their conference this season and split a pair of match-ups against SEC opponents, winning at home against Vanderbilt and losing on the road to Kentucky. Louisville is led in the frontcourt by Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan, who combine to average 18.5 points and 16.5 rebounds per game. The Cardinals only double-digit scorers are a pair of guards in Kyle Kuric (12.9 points per game) and Russ Smith (11.4 points per game), though the team has six players who average at least nine points.

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Florida is making its 15th NCAA Tournament appearance all-time and 12th under Donovan. The Gators are 32-12 all time in the event (28-9 under Donovan) with two national titles in three championship game appearances and four trips to the Final Four. Florida is making its sixth ever and second-straight Elite Eight appearance and is hoping to earn its fifth trip to the Final Four.
» Louisville is making its 38th NCAA Tournament appearance all-time and ninth under Pitino, who has led the program to the event six years in a row. The Cardinals are participating in their 12th Elite Eight and are hoping to advance to the Final Four for the ninth time in the program’s history.
» UL leads the all-time series against UF 7-1. Donovan is 0-2 against Louisville but 17-9 against the Big East since taking over the program.
» The Gators are 4-1 all-time in the Elite Eight and are in the event for the fourth time in the last seven years (2-1).
» The Cardinals are 8-3 all-time in the Elite Eight (1-2 under Pitino) and are in the event for the fourth time in the last eight years.
» Donovan is 0-6 all-time against Pitino.
» No. 7 seeds are 0-6 all-time in the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight since 1985.
» Florida is 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.
» No team that has allowed fewer than 155 points in their first three NCAA Tournament games in the shot clock era (1986-present) has lost in the Elite Eight (3-0). The Gators have allowed 153 points through three games.
» Florida has made a three in 687 consecutive games dating back to Jan. 1992.
» The Gators have registered a school record and nation-high in three-pointers this season with 349 over 36 games; the 9.8 treys per game is No. 1 in the country.
» All five of UF’s normal starters are averaging 10.2 points per game or more.
» Florida is 19-2 (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 239-39 since 1998-99 when recording 15 or more assists in a game and 291-37 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, UL is 13-8 against the same field with three losses to No. 1 seeds (Kentucky, Syracuse) and one to a No. 3 seed (Marquette).
» Florida and Louisville each have an ace up their sleeve heading into Saturday’s contest. The Gators and Cardinals traded staff members in the offseason with former UF assistant Richard Pitino going to UL as an assistant and Louisville team manager Billy O’Meara heading to Florida as assistant video coordinator.
» The Gators are shooting 77 percent from the free throw line in the postseason and have taken at least 15 attempts from the charity stripe in four of the last five games.
» Florida’s defense has improved immensely in the NCAA Tournament. UF’s three opponents are averaging just 51 points (with no team scoring more than 58) while shooting 31 percent from the field and 21 percent from beyond the arc.
» Louisville’s NCAA Tournament defense has also been impressive. UL has held their three opponents to an average of 54 points on 35 percent shooting from the floor and 22 percent from downtown.
» The Gators’ three-point shooting, however, has been less than impressive in the tourney. The Gators are averaging just seven treys per game (down from 10 during the regular season) and are shooting just 27 percent from beyond the arc.
» The Cardinals knocked off No. 1-seed Michigan State for the opportunity to play in the Elite Eight. Louisville is on a seven-game winning streak dating back to March 7 which includes victories over six NCAA Tournament teams including MSU, Notre Dame, Davidson, Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Marquette.

Read the rest of this preview: Florida back to Elite Eight / Donovan vs. Pitino
Continue Reading » NCAA Elite Eight: (7) Florida vs. (4) Louisville

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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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(7) Florida Gators advance to second-straight Elite Eight with 68-58 victory over (3) Marquette

The No. 7-seed Florida Gators (26-10) will compete for a Final Four berth for the second-straight season after advancing to the Elite Eight on the heels of a 68-56 victory over the No. 3-seed Marquette Golden Eagles (27-8) in the Sweet 16 round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament at the US Airways Center in Phoenix, AZ.

Competing in the West Region, Florida will face No. 4-seed Louisville (which defeated No. 1-seed Michigan State 57-44 in the previous game) on Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

The Gators were led, as they have been all postseason, by freshman guard Bradley Beal, who posted a game-high 21 points on extremely efficient shooting. Beal was 8-of-10 from the field and 3-for-5 from beyond the arc; he also grabbed six rebounds (two offensive), dished four assists, swiped two steals and registered two blocks.

Senior point guard Erving Walker and junior G Kenny Boynton each struggled with their shooting but combined to go 10-for-11 from the charity stripe. Walker and Boynton both scored 11 points and combined for seven boards, seven dimes and a pair of steals.

Marquette jumped ahead by five early as Florida started 2-for-9 from the field and UF junior forward Erik Murphy missed his first four shots. The Gators and Golden Eagles then jockeyed back-and-forth with impressive scoring stretches until Boynton tied the contest at 15 after completing a four-point play.

UF went on their second run of the half, a 7-0 stretch, as MU forward Jae Crowder went to the bench with his second foul. Sophomore PG Scottie Wilbekin drained a three after sophomore G/F Casey Prather scored four-straight points including a highlight twisting finish on an alley-oop by Boynton.

After falling behind three while being outscored 10-3 by the Golden Eagles, the Gators ended the first half on a 9-0 run lasting 3:47 to take a six-point lead into the break.

Florida extended that advantage to a game-high 14 points early in the second half as Murphy ended his cold streak (he started 0-for-8 from the field and 0-for-5 from downtown) by draining a three with the shot clock winding down. Beal followed that up with his third trey of the game only to have Murphy find the bottom of the net again after he finished on a driving layup. The 8-0 run extended an impressive scoring stretch by the Gators to 21-4 including the nine-straight points they scored to end the first half.

Marquette was able to answer Florida as UF fell into a shooting drought lasting 4:07. The Gators went 0-for-6 from the field as the Golden Eagles scored six-straight points to cut their deficit to eight points. Florida’s tough shooting continued as the team went 2-for-11 with three turnovers since achieving their game-high lead, but the Gators began attacking the basket again and went back up 12, 56-44, with 4:54 left in the contest.

MU refused to relent, however, scoring seven-straight points (including five by G Todd Mayo) to cut UF’s lead to six points with 3:20 remaining. Walker and Crowder traded threes to keep the Gators’ lead at six, but Boynton hit five of six free throws down the stretch to clinch the victory for Florida.

Though Murphy had a tough shooting night with just seven points while going 3-of-13 from the field and 1-for-8 from three, he registered a season-high and game-high 10 rebounds (one short of his career-best). The Gators added 11 bench points (all scored in the first half) and six from sophomore center Patric Young, who did not get the ball much but cradled nine boards including a game-high five off the offensive glass.

Crowder led the Golden Eagles with 15 points and the team’s leading scorer, G Darius Johnson-Odom, posted just 14. Both players went just 5-of-15 from the field and Marquette as a team shot just 30.8 percent from the floor.

UF won the rebounding margin 39-34 and had 15 assists on 24 made baskets. The Gators also hit 86.7 percent of their free throws and registered six blocks on the evening.

Florida will advance to face Louisville at 4:30 p.m. on CBS in what will be the seventh career meeting between Donovan and his former head coach Rick Pitino. Donovan is 0-6 all-time against Pitino including 0-2 since he took over the Louisville program.

Photo Credit: Chris Carlson/Associated Press

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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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