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 basketball celebrates tournament wins

The Florida Gators men’s and women’s basketball teams were each victorious in their respective games in the 2012 NCAA Tournament on Sunday. The seven-seed men defeated the 15-seed Norfolk State Spartans 80-54 in the evening after the nine-seed women topped the eight-seed Ohio State Buckeyes 70-65 in the afternoon.

Below are a pair of videos courtesy of GatorVision.tv featuring the men’s team and women’s team celebrating their respective victories in the post-game locker room.

The Florida women’s team will take on top-ranked and undefeated Baylor in second-round action on Tuesday, while the Gators’ men’s squad will square off against three-seed Marquette in the Sweet 16 on Thursday.

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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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2012 NCAA Tournament: (7) Florida vs. (15) NSU

Location: CenturyLink Center – Omaha, NE [Capacity: 17,260]
Time: 6:10 p.m. (ET)

TV: TNT/TNTHD
SiriusXM: 94
Online Video: TNT.tv
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

(7) FLORIDA GATORS (15) NORFOLK ST. SPARTANS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Anthony Evans
Record: 24-10 Record: 26-9
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Mid-Eastern Athletic
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -14; O/U 144

KNOW THE OPPONENT

No. 15-seed Norfolk State, currently on an eight-game winning streak dating back to Feb. 20, won the MEAC Tournament and earned a berth to the NCAA Tournament – both for the first time in school history. NSU also became just the fifth 15-seed to upset a No. 2-seed by taking down Missouri 86-84 on Friday to advance to the third round. The Spartans flashed their talent throughout the season as well, proving that they were a team to be reckoned with after falling by just two points to then-No. 17 Marquette on Nov. 21. Center Kyle O’Quinn, the MEAC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, is Norfolk State’s leader in points (16.2), rebounds (10.5) and field goal percentage (.585) while also playing a team-high 31.5 minutes per game. The Spartans have two other double-digit scorers in guard/forward Chris McEachin (13.0) and G Pendarvis Williams (12.1), each of whom shoots well from beyond the arc, but no other player on the team posts more than 6.9 points per game.

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Florida is making its 15th NCAA Tournament appearance all-time and 12th under Donovan. The Gators are 30-12 all time in the event (26-9 under Donovan) with two national titles in three championship game appearances and four trips to the Final Four. The team is hoping to earn its seventh Sweet 16 appearance with a victory on Sunday.
» Norfolk State is making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament after winning its first MEAC Tournament title in school history.
» UF is 22-0 all-time against MEAC teams (20-0 under Donovan) and has never faced NSU in men’s basketball.
» Florida has made a three in 685 consecutive games dating back to Jan. 1992.
» The Gators have registered a school record and nation-high in three-pointers this season with 332 over 34 games; the 9.8 treys per game is No. 1 in the country.
» All five of UF’s normal starters are averaging 10.4 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 6-8 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 289-37 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, NSU is 2-2 against the same field with two losses to No. 3-seed Marquette and victories over No. 2-seed Missouri and Long Island.

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3/17: Gators, Donovan preview NSU game

Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan and a number of his team’s players took the podium in Omaha, NE on Saturday to discuss the team’s upcoming third-round NCAA Tournament game against the Norfolk State Spartans on Sunday at 6:10 p.m.

NORFOLK STATE WON, BUT THEY’RE NO CINDERELLA

Even though seven-seed Florida has avoided two-seed Missouri and will instead take on 15-seed Norfolk State, Donovan does not necessarily think the Gators have any advantage in particular. He also does not believe that the Spartans got lucky in any way.

“The best team won. In this tournament, when you’re dealing with a one-shot game, the best team on that night wins,” he said. “They were the best team [Friday] night and deserved to go on. Clearly they had a high level of confidence, belief in themselves and their system and what they needed to do, and I think it showed [Friday] night.

“When you’re dealing with a one-shot game like this, and against good teams, these teams that are in this tournament are good teams. They’re all good teams. You don’t get to this point in time unless you’re a good team. And when you’re playing against a good team, I think anything can happen.”

Donovan is also aware that Sunday’s crowd will be heavily favoring the perceived underdog but said that Florida will be prepared for the road game-like atmosphere.

“We’ve been in situations like that. Even in the SEC Tournament it was kind of like that,” he said. “It’s a great story for Norfolk State, but we can’t really control the crowd and those kinds of things. We have to go out there and play and focus on the things that you have to do well execution-wise.”

PREPARING FOR THE SPARTANS

With many fans and analysts assuming Florida and Missouri would be meeting in the third round, expectations were that it would be a high-scoring affair between two teams that were very similar to each other. The Gators instead will take on a team that has a great size advantage in the backcourt, one that could give UF’s smaller guards fits.

“They’ve got great perimeter size all the way around,” Donovan said. “They shoot the ball very well from back there. In a lot of situations they really did a great job of shooting the ball over top of Missouri in the game. Having an awareness of the space that you give them will be very important.”

It is obvious that he already has Florida’s players in a similar mindset.

“They play hard. The guards are 6’6” and 6’7”. They’re a big team,” junior guard Kenny Boynton said. “They lost by two to Marquette and beat Missouri. I think they’re a good team. We respect them fully. We just got to go out there and play as a team. If we get the rebounds and we get the loose balls, we have a good shot at winning.”

“Probably our biggest challenge with this team […] is rebounds,” freshman G Bradley Beal added. “Everybody is going to have to box out including all of the guards. Basically our defensive rebounds are going to be our biggest issue.”

In addition to the matchup problems on the perimeter, the Gators will also have to deal with NSU’s Kyle O’Quinn in the paint. To that end, UF sophomore center Patric Young has plenty of work ahead of him.

“Rebounding was a huge key in them beating Missouri [Friday] night, and it’s definitely going to be a huge key for us [against them] because they have the size advantage on us,” he said. “It’s going to be a really difficult matchup and we’re going to have to keep them off the boards.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Sophomore guard/forward Casey Prather on if his confidence has improved: “I will just build off of this game, keep letting my confidence grow. You get confidence by practicing and hard work.”

» Sophomore point guard Scottie Wilbekin on how Florida can beat Norfolk State: “We got to start with defense because if we play defense it helps our offense and we can sort of get going on the fast break.”

» Wilbekin on Prather’s great game on Friday: “I was extremely happy for him. He got interviewed by Craig Sager. I don’t think anyone in here has, so he can say that.”

» Beal on if UF was rooting for NSU to beat Mizzou: “We weren’t cheering for either team because it really doesn’t matter. We were going to play against the better team and yesterday Norfolk State was the better team over Missouri.”

» Donovan on Beal: “He really, besides playing well, has handled himself in a way that has brought probably more chemistry to our team. I’ve been around some high profile guys that have come out of high school that are not like that. They think the sun rises and sets on them and that it’s all them and he’s really not like that.”

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