The better team put an end to UF's season


Published: Monday, March 21, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 21, 2005 at 2:06 a.m.
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Florida guard Anthony Roberson yells to an official about a five-second violation by Villanova's Mike Nardi during the second half Sunday.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Nashville, Tenn. - The finality hit Matt Walsh like a sack of hammers.
It was over. No more practices. No more road trips. No more David Lee. Possibly no more Anthony Roberson.
There will be more basketball for Walsh but no more this season. No more Big Three, just another big disappointment.
The emotion of what it all meant filled his eyes. He wept on the bench and again as he left the court, pulling his jersey up over his head to hide his red eyes.
"This was not something I wanted to feel today," he said in the Florida locker room. "I wanted another weekend with these guys. I love being with these guys."
But failure is inevitable for all but one team in the tournament. On Sunday, it slapped the Gators and Billy Donovan too early again.
It has been five seasons since Donovan took his team to the national final. Five seasons, five exits in the first weekend. It doesn't matter that Villanova was favored and only a notch below Florida on the seeding chart. It was another Gator gag, right?
The easy thing to do would be to lump the last five seasons together as one steaming indictment of Donovan and his players. The simple presumption is that the light gets too bright for the Gators in this tournament.
Let's see how quickly we can dismiss the Donovan post-NCAA spin that this was a fantastic season.
"24-8? My gosh, I think it's been incredible," he said.
But it ended much the way the last five have ended. It wasn't Manhattan but it also wasn't a Sweet 16 trip to Syracuse. They didn't give up, but they didn't show up to start the game either.
If Anthony Roberson was auditioning for the NBA this weekend, he might want to consider getting that degree. He played in a fog and it permeated the team. So forget that he led the SEC in scoring. Forget the games he took over. Forget Peep from deep and remember only that Peep made Walsh weep.
Don't pontificate about how this team got better this season, how it got tougher and improved defensively. Did you see the game? They were destroyed on the boards and off the dribble.
This is the NCAA Tournament, where seasons go to die and where Florida goes to be embarrassed. It may not be fair, but all coaches and all teams are judged by their Big Dance cards.
So let me take the easy route and make fun of the Gators, slam Donovan's NCAA record and wonder out loud about the heart and big-game abilities of these players.
Except this time I'm buying what Donovan was selling. This was a great season. This was something special. Had they won one more game and lost to North Carolina, you would have heard no complaining. Unless you were in the Georgia Dome and watched these players cut down the nets, you can't say this is a bad season.
So because of one loss to a very good Villanova team that has lost once in its last 11 games, I guess we're all supposed to sharpen our knives. Are we supposed to forget everything that happened in the previous 31 games?
"I was upset with our team last year," Donovan said. "How can I be disappointed or upset with a team that gave me its heart and soul and came up short?
"Because we didn't win one more game, I'm supposed to forget being on the sidelines when we were down 17 at South Carolina? I'm supposed to forget beating Kentucky at home? I'm supposed to forget doing something that has never been done, winning the SEC Tournament? I'm supposed to forget all that and the year is a disappointment?"
I can't tell you how many people told me before I left for Nashville that they didn't care what the Gators did in the NCAAs, that winning in Atlanta made their year. Of course, that was the glow of fresh euphoria and Florida had not lost a game in almost a month.
Now they have and it wasn't pretty. They fought back from a 14-point deficit to cut the lead to one, but the offense went on a seven-minute sabbatical and it was over.
Roberson was awful Sunday, again showing his biggest flaw - that he tends to live in the past. Roberson continued to show that he's the Bobby Cox of college basketball, great until the postseason.
Walsh wasn't much better offensively. Lee did everything he could. Corey Brewer shot them back into the game.
But in the end, the better team won. Even though Florida's team improved during the season more than any team in the last five years, the Gator guards seemed to be running on mental fumes in their final game.
And so it was another year of March Sadness for the Gators. They again became the easy target. Sure, they went deeper into the tournament than Kansas and Syracuse. They always have big-name company at home, just not the same faces.
So bash Billy. Rip Roberson. Question their guts and their games.
You're disappointed.
They're disappointed.
"I'm very proud of this team," said Lee. "It was a very rewarding season."
And he had a lot more invested in it than any of us.
You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053. You can hear The Pat Dooley Hour each weekday from 11 a.m. to noon on The Star 99.5-FM.

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