FOUR BITS: Beal, Noah, Horschel, Donovan

1 » Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal opened some eyes on Tuesday, both early in the day and later in the evening when his team took down the Chicago Bulls 101-99 behind a great performance from the 20-year-old. Beal on Monday tweeted that he was visiting Giordano’s, a popular Chicago-style deep dish pizza restaurant in the Windy City. The Washington Post asked him about the experience. “I can’t eat that fat pie piece, whatever it’s called,” he said. “Deep dish pizza, I can’t eat that. I got the regular thin one. I didn’t eat a lot because I heard it’ll just sit there and you’ll be in the bathroom for hours.” It was probably a good thing Beal chose the New York-style slices because he went off that next day against the Bulls, scoring a game-high 26 points on 4-of-7 shooting from three with seven boards, two assists, two steals and a block in 42 minutes. Beal led the Wizards to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, scoring six-straight points and nine of his team’s last 11 to knot the contest at 91-91 with 52 seconds remaining.

2 » Chicago center Joakim Noah, fresh off his NBA Defensive Player of the Year honor also played well Tuesday, notching a double-double of 20 points and 12 rebounds while also registering three dimes in 46 minutes. Noah was 8-of-14 from the floor and 4-for-4 from the line but did commit five turnovers and five fouls in the contest. In other Noah news, it was revealed by TMZ.com Wednesday that he and the footwear company Le Coq Sportif, of which he was an endorser after signing a six-year, $6 million contract, are in the midst of a lawsuit. Noah claims he is owed $1.65 million from the company, which “shut down its U.S. offices, fired the guy who signed Noah and started looking for ways to back out of the deal.” Furthermore, he “held up his end of the bargain and wore Le Coq shoes in every NBA game he played even though he claims they were ‘not well designed and likely contributed to [my] development of plantar faciitis,’” an injury that bothered him for each of the last two seasons. Noah now wears adidas.

Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: Beal, Noah, Horschel, Donovan

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Gameday – 2014 NCAA Tournament – Orlando, FL: (1) Florida Gators vs. (16) Albany Great Danes

Location: Amway Center – Orlando, FL [Capacity: 20,000]
Time: 4:10 p.m. EDT (30 minutes after the conclusion of Colorado-Pittsburgh)

TV: TBS (Brian Anderson, Dan Bonner, Kristine Leahy)
SiriusXM: 93/192 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Online Video: March Madness Live | Mobile Video: March Madness Live app
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter

See the Game in Person: Florida Gators tickets

(1) FLORIDA GATORS (16) ALBANY GREAT DANES
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Will Brown
Record: 32-2 Record: 19-14
Conference: Southeastern Conference: America East
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -22 | O/U: 121.5

HISTORY, STATS AND STREAKS

» Florida is the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in school history (2007), holding a 6-0 record and national title the previous time it held this ranking entering the tournament.
» No. 1 seeds are 116-0 against No. 16 seeds since 1989. Only 14 of those games have been decided with final margins of victory in single digits.
» The Gators won the outright 2014 SEC regular-season title for the second-straight year and third time in the last four seasons. UF then went on to win the 2014 SEC Tournament Championship for the first time since 2007.
» The Great Danes earned the right to play in the Round of 64 after defeating Mount St. Mary’s 71-64 in first game of the First Four on Tuesday.
» Florida has played 54 games in 18 NCAA Tournament appearances, holding a 38-16 all-time in the event. The Gators have played 42 of those 54 games under Donovan, going 31-11 in those contests over 14 NCAA Tournaments.
» UF is 14-5 in Round of 64 games and has not been knocked out in its first NCAA Tournament game since 2010. In its last six NCAA Tournament appearances, the Gators have won back-to-back national championships (2006-07) and advanced to three-straight Elite Eights (2011-13).
» Florida is 1-0 all-time against Albany, winning 83-64 in Gainesville, FL on Nov. 10, 2005 in the lone meeting between the programs. The Gators have never lost to an AEC team (6-0, 5-0 under Donovan).
» UF enters Thursday’s second-round game on a program-record 26-game winning streak with victories in 31 of its last 32 games.
» The Gators are 83-9 since the beginning of the 2011-12 season when holding an opponent under 71 points in a game.
» UF is 15-2 this season in single-digit decisions after going 0-6 in such contests during the 2012-13 campaign. Florida is also 1-0 in overtime games.
» Florida is 5-0 in neutral-site games this season.
» The Gators are 22-5 playing as the top team in the country.
» Florida won 30+ games prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history and can set a school record for most wins in a season by winning four games and advancing to the Final Four.

Continue Reading » Gameday – 2014 NCAA Tournament – Orlando, FL: (1) Florida Gators vs. (16) Albany Great Danes

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Meet Florida basketball assistant Rashon Burno

For the first time since being announced as the Florida Gators new assistant basketball coach on April 12, Rashon Burno met with the media on Thursday to discuss what brought him to Florida and how he plans to fit in with the Gators.

ADJUSTING TO A NEW HOME

A lifelong Northerner, Burno has spent most of his playing and coaching career in New York and Illinois. Though a move to Florida was undoubtedly a change of lifestyle for him and his family, he knew it was something he wanted from the moment he was offered an interview by head coach Billy Donovan. “I got on a plane with the intention of taking the job if offered. I was more nervous that I was not going to get an offer,” he said.

Burno got that offer and accepted the job immediately. He is already comfortable in Gainesville, FL but is being tested by two things in particular about the adjustment: the temperature and… “The most challenging part, obviously, is when you leave for your family,” he said, “but basketball-wise, you’re still doing the same thing. You’re still on the grind, still trying to evaluate talent. You may be looking at a little bit better talent than Manhattan, which is obviously an adjustment, but so far so good.”

Now that he’s adjusted, Burno expects the rest of his family to join him in approximately six weeks and knows that his children especially will love going to the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. “They’re excited to because they’re of age where they know basketball,” he said. “I have twin boys who are age 11. They love basketball. They love Erving Walker. They thought he could do no wrong – small guy who could shoot it, offensive threat, they love that guy. At their age all they want to do is shoot, shoot, shoot. Not that Erv shot a lot. Not saying that. Not saying that. [Laughing] It’s good for those guys. They’re eager to get down here and make new friends and get in the community.”

He also has no expectation of being part of the seemingly endless rotation of Gators basketball assistants and expects to be wearing orange and blue for quite some time. “In this business I think, for me, I wanted to get with people who I respect. My prior relationship with Billy was built on mutual respect,” Burno said. “This is something that obviously I want to be a long-term fix or me. I’m not looking to go anywhere. I’m happy for the opportunity.”

THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB

As in many professions, moving up the ladder in the industry of college basketball is all about who you know. Luckily for Burno, a star player for St. Anthony’s High School in Jersey City, NJ under head coach Bob Hurley (a close friend of Donovan’s) and assistant under Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello (a friend and former assistant of Rick Pitino), he had the relationships and experience to get him his new gig.

“I think it goes back to working for a Pitino guy in Coach Masiello. You do a good job for someone in the family and the word travels. So I hope,” he said of how he got in touch with Donovan. “It was over a four-five year span of really picking [Donovan’s] brain about how to be a productive coach. I think that helped in the process because he got to know me off the floor. I think it paid dividends obviously with the opportunity to work for him.”

Though he did not know Donovan personally until a few years ago, Burno explained that he always admired his work from afar. “Just anybody that wins two national titles as a coach you’ve got to take your hat off to them and just respect what he does and what he stands for,” he said. “For me, from a coaching standpoint, he’s somebody that I looked up to and reached out to and was looking to build a relationship with.”

Burno added, “Just I think his offense was ahead of the game – pick and roll now you see pretty much throughout college basketball. I’m a big basketball fan so I was always a fan of his. It was just a matter of trying to build a relationship. […] It just so happened this thing comes full circle that I can work for a guy like that.”

A TENACIOUS RECRUITER

One of Burno’s strong suits is his recruiting acumen and ability to relate to players. He described himself as “tenacious” in regards to bringing in players and explained that having a rough background can help relate to guys going through similar situations.

“I try to wear many hats because every kid is different. I try to adapt to a particular kid. But I’m just consistent with my message as far as talking to kids. Definitely one of aggression – just trying to make sure they understand where they stand with us,” he said. “You just try to use your own experience to try and help educate a kid on why this is a good opportunity for them. Having similar backgrounds with the kids I’m currently recruiting helps as well.”

One player Burno does not have to recruit is redshirt senior guard Mike Rosario, a fellow St. Anthony’s player who he will get to coach in his first year at Florida. Needless to say he is excited for the opportunity. “We are a fraternity. It’s really odd that I ended up coaching Mike his last year of college. I’ve known Mike for a long time and watched him for afar. He’s a talented kid. I think this is the first time in the history of St. Anthony’s that a former player is coaching [another] former player from St. Anthony’s,” he said.

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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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Elite Eight: Florida vs. Louisville – Early notes

Following consecutive victories in Sweet 16 action on Thursday evening, the No. 7-seed Florida Gators and No. 3-seed Louisville Cardinals set in stone their match-up in the West Region’s Elite Eight as part of the 2012 NCAA Tournament on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. live on CBS. Below is a post-game video along with some early notes on the game.

POST-GAME LOCKER ROOM CELEBRATION VIDEO
The video below is courtesy of UF’s GatorVision.tv.

EARLY NOTES

» Florida head coach Billy Donovan, who played under Louisville head coach Rick Pitino at Providence and was an assistant coach on his staff at Kentucky from 1989-1994, is 0-6 all-time against his mentor.

» Donovan and Pitino each have an ace up their respective sleeve for Saturday’s contest as the Gators and Cardinals traded staff members after last season. Former Florida assistant Richard Pitino is now an assistant with Louisville while former UL team manager Billy O’Meara is now UF’s assistant video coordinator after spending five years working under the elder Pitino.

» Gators freshman guard Bradley Beal has become more aggressive and is averaging 17 points per game on 54 percent shooting (43 percent from three) with 8.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.4 blocks in the 2012 postseason.

» Florida as a team is hitting 77 percent of its foul shots in the postseason and has taken at least 15 attempts from the line in four of the last five games.

» The Gators’ defense has improved immensely in the NCAA Tournament. Florida’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.

» UF’s 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.

» Louisville’s NCAA Tournament defense has also been impressive. The Cardinals have held their three opponents to an average of 54 points on 35 percent shooting from the floor and 22 percent from downtown.

ESPN DISCUSSES FLORIDA’S DEFENSE AND SWEET 16 WIN

Stick with OGGOA over the next two days leading up to the Florida-Louisville game.

Photo Credit: Rich Clarkson/Sports Illustrated

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