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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Gators talk big win, advancing to the Sweet 16

No. 7-seed Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan and a number of his players took the podium in Omaha, NE after Sunday’s blowout victory of the No. 15-seed Norfolk State Spartans to discuss the victory and the team advancing to the Sweet 16 of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. UF will face No. 3-seed Marquette on Thursday at 10:17 p.m.

THE 25-0 RUN

Trailing 6-4 early in the contest, Donovan decided to put Florida in the full-court press early, and the move undoubtedly paid off for the Gators. Florida erupted on a 25-0 scoring stretch lasting seven minutes and including a flurry of threes and plenty of great looks inside the paint as well. It was likely the longest run that most of the players on the court had ever been a part of (both ways) and something that put the game out of reach for Norfolk State before the players even got a chance to get a good sweat going.

“I haven’t ever been a part of anything like that, a 25-0 run,” junior guard Kenny Boynton said after the game. “I think we did a great job getting stops and converting on the offensive end. It just showed a level of focus there.”

That defense-first mindset is something Donovan has been trying to instill in his team for some time considering he knew that the Gators could pretty much score at will. It finally seems to be settling in.

“I think our defense just propelled us to get some good, easy shots with transition and guys were shooting with confidence,” senior point guard Erving Walker said. “We got some extra work in the gym and it just paid off for us.”

The players’ comments seemed to echo that mindset Donovan has been preaching, which he explained after they left the podium.

“The whole key for us was we did a great job defensively where we rebounded the basketball,” he said. “Once we rebounded the ball, they do such a great job of applying pressure on the backboard with their guards. I thought if we could come down with clean rebounds, we could get out in transition and run. That really helped us.”

WHAT TEAM IS THIS?

Florida has won their first two NCAA Tournament games by 26 and 34 points, respectively, and finally seems to be playing like the team they were at the beginning of the season. It has been a slow process getting back to this point after sophomore forward Will Yeguete went down with a broken foot, but Donvoan is pleased to see that the team is finally filling their roles and understanding what it takes to win at this level.

“When Yeguete got hurt, it really changed our team in a lot of ways. It changed us in the press. It changed our rotation in the front court. We had to sometimes go small at a weakness instead of strength. That was a different dynamic because of our lack of depth,” he explained. “When that happened against Auburn, we then didn’t have very much time to kind of make adjustments. I really felt like coming out of the Vanderbilt game we played harder and we played better after that Georgia game. I was disappointed in that game. We were able to work on some things.

“After playing Kentucky, we had about five days [of preparation] because we had a bye in the SEC Tournament. I really thought that eight or 10 days of practice helped them kind of see how they had to play and the adjustments, and I think I talked about a vision for them now with him being out. That took a little bit of time. I know we dropped some games at the end of the year, but those four games we dropped, two of them were against Kentucky, one was against Vanderbilt on the road, and then obviously the Georgia game was disappointing.

“The one thing about these guys is they do listen, they do try to implement what you ask them to. But there was a period of time there where there was definitely an adjustment that had to go on.”

Boynton said after the game that the confidence Donovan brings with his experience and coaching acumen is something that propels the Gators.

“We know we have a great coach. We believe in coach and everything he tells us to do,” he said. “When we prepare for a game, we try our best to listen to what’s being said because we know he’s been here before as a player and as a coach. I just think, going forward, we need to keep listening to him and doing what’s asked of us.”

That is why Florida is playing at such a high level right now, and it is something not lost on the players whatsoever. However, there is also a common sentiment amongst them that the Gators’ ceiling is much higher than the Sweet 16.

“I think we still have a lot more things that we’re capable of doing and we just haven’t showed it yet,” freshman G Bradley Beal said. “It’s just a matter of time with these last couple of games and I think it’s just going to get exposed pretty soon.”

UF’s elder statesman agreed. “We’re doing a lot better job of understanding each other’s roles and where each other is going to be on the court, so it is making it easier to play with each other. Like Brad said, I think we got a lot of room to improve still,” he added.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Walker on comparing the level of play this year against last year’s team: “It’s two totally different teams, but I would say both teams have really good chemistry – this year’s team and last year’s team. I would say this year’s team, we’re still learning more so than last year’s team, we pretty much had things figured out being an older group. We have guys in different roles and we still have room to grow.”

» Boynton on comparing the two teams’ chemistry levels: “Last year’s team and this year’s team, on a chemistry level, I think they’re similar. Last year’s team we had great leadership with the three seniors that we had.”

» Walker on reaching back-to-back Sweet 16s: “It’s a great feeling. It’s a good accomplishment for us as a team to get back to the Sweet 16, but it would be an even better feeling to get to the Final Four, so we still got work to do.”

» Sophomore center Patric Young on reaching back-to-back Sweet 16s: “It’s not far enough.”

» Redshirt junior G Mike Rosario on getting to advance to the Sweet 16: “I dreamed of this. That was the reason why I made the decision to come here and now it’s here. Now we have a big opportunity now to go play in Phoenix. There are 16 teams left and it’s a great experience and a great feeling.”

» Donovan, half-joking, on Boynton’s rebounding on Sunday: “Kenny Boynton, during the year it would take him five games to get eight rebounds, but he got in there and rebounded the ball well.”

» Boynton on his career-high eight boards: “It was a level of focus. We know coming in the two ways that they beat Missouri was rebounding and getting loose balls. It was just a level of focus on everything boxing out and attacking the rim to get the rebounds.”

» Boynton on breaking out of his shooting slump: “Pretty much I tried to do a better job recently attacking the rim. I attacked the rim and I tried to get fouled early in the game and that kind of put me in a rhythm later in the game.”

» Donovan on sophomore G/F Casey Prather having a 101-degree fever and possibly strep throat: “He actually did a pretty good job. He knocked down a mid-range jumper, had an unbelievable block, but you could just tell how exhausted and tired he was.”

» Donovan on the ups-and-downs of this season: “I’m proud of these guys. They’ve always worked hard. It’s been a great group. There’s been some growth and maturing that has gone on and sometimes maybe it has frustrated me with these guys. I’ve said this before, I think as a coach you always want to expedite sometimes the growing process because you want to get there now. That’s probably not fair to them.”

» Donovan on what speaks to his sterling record in the NCAA Tournament: “Hopefully every coach, and I put myself there, you try to get better every year as a coach. I still think there’s room for improvement all the time. [...] There are certain guys that want this kind of stage. There just are. As much as you can talk to guys about wanting the stage, sometimes it’s a different kind of stage that is a little bit different for them. That kind of mentality can go a long way. I really think, in this tournament, you got to have players that play fearlessly on both ends of the floor and are not worrying about making mistakes and are competitive and are driven to want to be great and want to try to be the best they can [be].”

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Florida advances to Sweet 16 for seventh time in school history with 84-50 rout of Norfolk State

The Florida Gators advanced to the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in school history after putting together a blowout 84-50 victory on Sunday night in Omaha, NE. No. 7-seed Florida (25-10) routed the No. 15-seed Norfolk State Spartans (26-10) in third-round action, advancing in the 2012 NCAA Tournament in dominant fashion.

The Gators made seven three-pointers in the first half, notched eight assists on 16 baskets, and outrebounded the Spartans 21-13 while holding the lower seed to 25.8 percent shooting (16.7 percent from beyond the arc). NSU did not have a single player score more than three first-half points while five UF players eclipsed that figure.

Down two to Norfolk State nearly four minutes into the game, Florida suddenly erupted on an impressive 25-0 run while going 5-of-7 from downtown to jump ahead 29-6 midway through the first half. NSU was held scoreless for 7:08 during UF’s scoring stretch, and the Gators were able to increase their lead to 25 points moments later.

The Spartans utilized a quick 5-0 scoring spurt to cut their deficit to 20, but it did not even putting a dent in their opponent’s momentum. Florida scored five-straight points to end the half and went into the locker rooms with a 28-point lead thanks to a three by redshirt junior guard Mike Rosario at the buzzer.

The Gators kept the pressure on after the break, taking a 31-point lead less than two minutes into the half, extending that advantage to 36 points with 3:20 remaining in the contest and holding on the rest of the way for a dominant victory.

Junior guard Kenny Boynton led the way for Florida with 20 points (on 7-of-12 shooting) and a career-high eight rebounds along with four assists. Four other Gators scored in double-digits including Rosario (12 points), senior point guard Erving Walker (15 points), freshman G Bradley Beal (14 points) and junior forward Erik Murphy (10 points). Beal and Walker each added three assists and two steals to their respective totals; the former also had a game-high nine boards while Walker grabbed three.

Florida will take on No. 3-seed Marquette on Thursday in Phoenix, AZ at a to-be-determined time. The Gators have now advanced to the Sweet 16 in consecutive seasons and four of the last seven years.

Photo Credit: Nati Harnik/Associated Press

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3/16: Florida vs. Virginia post-game notes

Head coach Billy Donovan and a number of his players met with media following the No. 7-seed Florida Gators impressive 71-45 victory over the Virginia Cavaliers action on Friday. With the second-round victory, Florida will advance to third-round action on Sunday for a chance to earn a Sweet 16 berth in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

THIRD-ROUND OPPONENT: NORFOLK STATE

No. 15-seed Norfolk State defeated No. 2-seed Missouri in the bottom of the West Region bracket and will advance to take on UF on Sunday at a to-be-determined time. Below is a video of the team celebrating their upset victory in the locker room.

PRATHER STEPS IT UP AT THE RIGHT TIME

Faced with one of their toughest defensive challenges of the season, Florida was confident in their ability to score but wanted to make sure they could equal Virginia on the other end of the court. Donovan conceded after the game that sophomore forward Will Yeguete, who is out for the season with a broken foot, would have been the Gators’ best bet at stopping Cavaliers F Mike Scott. However, he thought sophomore guard/forward Casey Prather might do well in his stead.

He was right.

Prather held Scott to 15 points and six rebounds while also performing well on the offensive end, scoring a team- and career-high 14 points to go along with four boards. It was the best game of his career in a Florida uniform, something that made Donovan smile a bit wider after the contest.

“Very happy for Casey because he’s a guy I get a chance to be around every single day and he has the same attitude,” he said. “I’ve been around so many young players where they don’t get a chance to play or it’s not going well for them and they pout and they sulk and they have no resiliency to come back the next day and work. [...] I’m just personally very happy for him because he really has stayed the course as a player and has tried to figure out just how to get better and how to improve. He obviously gave us a huge lift.”

Continue Reading » 3/16: Florida vs. Virginia post-game notes

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Florida pulls away for 71-45 win over Virginia

The West Region’s No. 7-seed Florida Gators (24-10) shut down the No. 10-seed Virginia Cavaliers (22-10) in the second half of their second-round game on Friday afternoon in Omaha, NE, pulling away for an impressive 71-45 victory and advancing to the third round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

Florida hit 80 percent of their shots from inside the arc and was led by 14 points each from sophomore guard/forward Casey Prather and freshman G Bradley Beal. Prather’s total was a career-high and came in the flow of the game as he played quality defense and did his best to limit the effectiveness of Virginia F Mike Scott.

The Gators outscored the Cavaliers 41-23 over the final 20 minutes and outrebounded the lower seed 36-21 and 9-2 on the offensive glass.

Virginia opened up with the early advantage, outscoring Florida 10-2 as UF coughed the ball up four times. Despite struggling from downtown by starting 0-for-13 from three-point range, the Gators used a 9-0 run to take a 22-18 lead with 5:04 remaining in the first half and ended the first 20 minutes on an 8-2 run to hold an eight-point lead at the break.

The Cavaliers also struggled from long distance in the opening half, going 0-for-7 from beyond the arc. However, Florida was much more efficient from inside the three-point line, hitting 11-of-15 shots and outrebounding Virginia 21-13 (7-1 offensively).

Gators sophomore center Patric Young extended his team’s lead to 10 points with a quick dunk to start the second half but was sent to the bench with 18:25 left in the game after picking up two quick fouls and having three total on the afternoon.

A pair of threes by Virginia guard Sammy Zeglinski cut Florida’s lead to six, but UF responded with an explosive 17-2 run including five points each from Prather and Beal to take a 21-point lead, 53-32 with 9:16 to play.

At the end of a possession defended nicely by UVA, Young found Beal wide open on the wing for a dagger three. Beal then added a mid-range jumper under a minute later to help put the game out of reach.

The Gators extended their advantage to 26 points thanks to another layup by Prather with 4:55 remaining. He also added an explosive dunk on an alley-oop by Walker with 2:37 left to finish the contest with a career-high 14 points.

Florida nearly doubled up Virginia over the final 23:50 of the game, playing excellent defense outscoring the lower seed 49-25

In addition to helping Prather lead the way with 14 points each, Beal registered his sixth double-double of the season with a game-high 11 rebounds. Young had seven boards and scored 13 points on perfect 6-of-6 shooting. Walker and junior G Kenny Boynton combined for 17 points while going 6-for-18 from the field and 0-for-7 from downtown.

“I’m so proud of him,” head coach Billy Donovan said of Prather after the game. “People don’t realize this. A lot of the time when young players go through adversity and they don’t get to play a lot, they have a tendency to pout and not work hard. If there’s anybody that deserves success, it’s him.

“Since he’s been a freshman, every time – whether he’s played 20 minutes or two minutes or not even gotten in the game – he’s the first guy in the gym. He’s always working to get better. I told him if anybody deserves success, it’s him. Obviously on such a big stage, I’m so proud of him and so happy for him for just staying the course and believing in himself.”

Prather saw 22 minutes of action and spent most of it covering Scott, who he held to 15 points and six rebounds. Scott averaged 18.1 and 8.4, respectively, over the course of the season and had scored 23, 35 and 28 points over the Cavaliers’ last three contests.

The Gators will advance to third-round action on Sunday but must wait to learn who their opponent will be. No. 2-seed Missouri and No. 15-seed Norfolk State will go head-to-head at 4:40 p.m. with the winner taking on Florida in two days.

Photo Credit: Nati Harnik/Associated Press

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3/15: Gators, Donovan preview Virginia game

Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan, senior point guard Erving Walker and junior guard Kenny Boynton took the podium in Omaha, NE on Thursday to discuss the team’s upcoming second-round NCAA Tournament game against the Virginia Cavaliers on Friday at 2:10 p.m. The contest will air live on TNT.

NOT CONCERNED ABOUT THE PACK LINE

Virginia’s Pack Line defense has received plenty of press both this season and leading up to the game but neither Donovan nor Florida’s players are worried about taking on the nation’s second-ranked defensive team.

“We’ve seen tape and there’s been teams that have played defense like that. You never know until you’re out there exactly how it is,” Walker said, “but we think our offense, we have enough weapons and shooting and Patric [Young] on the inside where we can attack any defense if we play the right way and move the ball.”

Boynton shared a similar opinion. “This year we’ve seen pretty much every kind of defense we can. The type of offense we have and the type of players we have, I think we can adjust to any type of defense,” he added.

Not as cavalier (no pun intended) about the match-up was Donovan, who said that each team has seen versions of the other this season so UVA’s defense should not be anything foreign to UF.

“Like any defense, there is no solution defensively for every single thing on offense. Obviously one of the things that always helps on any offense is when teams can make shots,” he said. “With Virginia, they are an outstanding defensive team. They’ve done it against everybody all year long. Teams that have had success against them have been teams that maybe have been able to make some shots. They do a great job of providing a lot of help, being in a position to help.

“For us, our spacing, how we move the basketball, what we try to take advantage of, what we see as being open, making decisions will become very important. I don’t know if necessarily our offense or what we do offensively is an advantage going against their defense. [...] Although the styles may be somewhat contrasting, I don’t think it’s going to be taken by surprise – us or them – at some point during the time during the course of this lengthy season that we have not seen some similarities in each other’s systems.”

He did, however, admit that the teams have “contrasting styles” as the Gators want to “run and press and go up-and-down the floor on a regular basis” while the Cavaliers would prefer to run a half-court offense and get the best shot possible every time.

“Maybe one of the misconceptions with Virginia is that they don’t want to run at all. They’re an opportunistic running team when they have the opportunity to,” he said. “For us defensively, we’re out pressuring more and Virginia is probably in position where they’re taking away dribble-drives, paint touches, those kinds of things. You look at their scores, they’re playing in the mid-50s, a team that obviously defends very well and has held teams down all year wrong. Then there’s probably a team like ours that is looking to play in the mid-70s and 80s.”

Donovan is not concerned where the score is at the end of the day as he believes that Florida can be successful in any type of contest.

“Every game, you’re always trying to impose your will on the other team so to speak. Regardless of where the score is at, I think our basketball team has an opportunity to win regardless of where the game is being played at. And I do think that Virginia is capable of winning the game wherever the score is at,” he said. “Our team has got to be prepared to play whether it gets up-and-down a little bit or whether it gets caught in the half-court.”

ROSARIO ALSO PLANNING TO RETURN

In addition to Young, who said that he intended to return to UF for his junior season in 2012-13, redshirt junior G Mike Rosario told The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway that he definitely wants to come back for one more year.

“I love Florida and I just can’t wait to provide whatever I can for this program and stay a part of this team and do whatever I can to help us win a national championship,” he said.

Rosario has not done much for the Gators recently, missing three games in the month of February due to a hip pointer and scoring just 34 points over the remaining 10 contests. He hopes to improve both his health and his impact going forward.

“The injury has set me back, and the little things I could have done on the floor to help the team, I haven’t been able to do,” he said. “I was a little bit upset that I couldn’t go out there and perform to the best of my ability at the time. I’m just happy to be healthy.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Boynton on he and Walker being experienced in the tourney: “Our role here is basically to calm everybody down before the game, let them know it’s another game but to give it their all because if you lose now it’s the end of the season.”

» Walker on Florida setting the tone offensively: “We want to play our pace and keep the pace going fast, but we got to be prepared because they’re a good team and they may not turn it over. So we got to be prepared to play their style and grind it out if it comes to that.”

» Walker on how the season has gone: “I feel personally like we could have had a better season so far, but this is a new season. Our ceiling is still very high and we can continue to get better as we practice and follow Coach Donovan. Hopefully we can make this a long trip.”

» Donovan on possibly limiting Boynton and Walker’s freedom to shoot when they’re not making baskets: “My whole thing with our guards shooting is, when they are open they need to let it go. They have a responsibility to themselves and to their teammates to shoot the ball with confidence. I tell them all the time, ‘If you’re open and you’re about to go up and shoot and you’re not sure it’s going to go in, you’re better off not even taking the shot and passing it.’ I want them to have confidence when they’re shooting the basketball. My job as a coach is to try to get them to understand and see what’s a good shot and what’s a bad shot. Generally guys are not going to shoot a high percentage when they take bad shots.”

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Three Florida Gators earn All-SEC honors from AP

Three members of the 2011-12 Florida Gators basketball team earned recognition from the Associated Press on Monday for their efforts this season.

Guards freshman Bradley Beal and junior Kenny Boynton were named to the All-SEC Second Team, and senior point guard Erving Walker received an honorable mention though he was not placed on a team.

Beal and Boynton were named to the All-SEC First Team last week by the conference’s coaches with Walker earning a spot on the second team. Beal was also added to the SEC All-Freshman Team, and sophomore center Patric Young earned recognition for his activities both on the court and in the classroom (3.37 GPA in telecommunications) with the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year award.

Those four Florida players are not the only ones to receive special recognition after this season as sophomore forward Will Yeguete was placed on the 2012 SEC Community Service Team last Monday.

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No. 1 Kentucky slides past No. 19 Florida 74-71, eliminates Gators from SEC Tournament

Playing in their second nail-biter in as many days, the No. 19/22 Florida Gators (23-10, 11-7 SEC) showed passion and tenacity despite being outlasted by the No. 1/1 Kentucky Wildcats (32-1, 18-0 SEC) in the semifinals of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament on Saturday afternoon. Kentucky edged past Florida 74-71 at the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, LA, defeating their long-time rivals thrice in one season for the first time since 2003-04.

The Gators were led by sterling efforts from junior forward Erik Murphy and freshman guard Bradley Beal on both ends of the court. Murphy scored a career-high and game-high 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting while going 4-for-4 from long range and grabbing three rebounds. Beal added 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting (4-for-7 from downtown) with team-highs of eight boards and five assists. The duo combined to score 62 percent of UF’s points in the game.

The Wildcats had all five starters score in double figures. G Doron Lamb scored a team-high 16 points while three other players – F Anthony Davis, F Terrence Jones and G Marquis Teague – each added 15. Davis posted a double-double by adding 12 rebounds (five offensive) to go along with two blocks.

The contest started with a frantic pace as both teams scored early and often. Kentucky found success in the paint while Florida hit four of their first seven attempts from long range. The Gators used a 9-2 run including a blockbuster dunk by sophomore guard Casey Prather to take an early eight-point advantage, extending that lead to 10 points with 8:47 left in the half after Beal scored five-straight.

The Wildcats responded with a 9-2 run of their own to cut their deficit down to three, but UF found themselves back up seven on UK with under five minutes to play. However, Florida failed to make a field goal the final 4:24 of the half, and Kentucky concluded the first 20 minutes on an 8-0 run to take a 40-39 lead at the break, their first of the game.

The Gators maintained their intensity coming out of the locker rooms, taking a 54-49 lead as Beal and Murphy combined to score Florida’s first 12 points of the second half. The Wildcats matched their opponents shot for shot, and Kentucky used a 16-2 scoring stretch to take a 64-55 lead with seven minutes to play.

UF allowed UK to get back in the game by going scoreless for 6:32. In that span, the Gators coughed up four turnovers, committed six fouls and grabbed just two rebounds. However, Florida found a way to get back in the game as Murphy scored seven-straight points to reduce his team’s deficit to two with 2:42 remaining.

Both teams traded blows the rest of the way with the Wildcats maintaining a two-point advantage with 14.5 seconds left on the clock. Down four after two free throws, Gators junior G Kenny Boynton missed a contested three-pointer, allowing Kentucky to hang on for the hard-fought victory.

UK outrebounded UF 36-22 (15-6 offensive) and used those boards to take an equal number of attempts from the field as their opponent (60). The difference in the game for the Wildcats came from the free throw line. Kentucky made 15-of-20 tries while Florida was just 2-for-2 from the charity stripe.

While Beal and Murphy flourished, the Gators’ veteran backcourt faltered. Boynton and senior point guard Erving Walker combined to go 4-of-19 from the field (2-of-9 from three) with nine assists. Sophomore center Patric Young was Florida’s only other consistent scorer, posting 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting with five boards (three offensive).

The Gators, already assured of a berth in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, will now wait until Sunday to find out where they will be seeded in the event. Projections have Florida falling in as a No. 5 seed and playing their first game in Nashville, TN.

Photo Credit: Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

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