Gators set to begin NCAA play vs. Tulsa
Published: Friday, November 30, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 30, 2012 at 12:32 a.m.
Tonight in the O'Connell Center, the Florida Gators begin play in the NCAA Tournament for the 22nd consecutive year under head coach Mary Wise.
Miami (Fla.) vs. College of Charleston, 5 p.m.
Florida vs. Tulsa, 7:30 p.m. On radio: AM-850
Friday's winners play at 7:30 p.m.
(Matches at the O'Connell Center)
For Wise, the nation's winningest coach since taking over the UF program in 1991, the postseason mantra never changes.
It's all about focus.
“As soon as you start looking at the second-round match or beyond that, you lose sight of your task at hand,” Wise said. “Teams are way too talented for that. It's a different intensity level.
“The O'Connell Center will look different. It now becomes a neutral site. It's about taking care of business. You can't even look one match ahead. It's all about the match at hand, that scouting report, playing as well as you can and hoping that your best is better than the other team's. That has been the formula over the years.”
It is a formula that has worked well for UF, one of 16 teams hosting NCAA Sub-Regional action this weekend. The Gators, the No. 14 national seed, are 43-6 all-time in the O'Dome in NCAA Tournament play and have advanced to regional play in 20 of their previous 21 attempts.
The 15th-ranked Gators (25-4, 19-1 SEC) won their 20th SEC title — all under Wise — and are making their 23rd overall NCAA appearance. They take on Conference USA champion Tulsa at 7:30 p.m.
This is the third straight NCAA appearance for the Golden Hurricane (26-9, 14-2 C-USA), who are led by three-time C-USA Player of the Year Tyler Henderson. She is the nation's all-time scoring leader who comes into tonight's match with 651 kills on the season and averages 5.21 kills and 5.77 points per set, both NCAA-best marks.
“That's a pretty tough matchup to have for a first-round match,” said Wise, who garnered her 13th SEC Coach of the Year honor this season.
“I think our fans are going to be in for a treat to see one of the country's best.”
UF will counter with 2012 SEC Player of the Year and former Eastside standout Chloe Mann, who led the conference in hitting percentage (.437) while leading the Gators in blocks (107), and SEC Freshman of the Year Ziva Recek, who led UF in kills (409) while racking up nine double-doubles.
Both teams also are hot. The Gators have won six in a row and 22 of their last 24, while Tulsa has won seven straight and 19 of the last 21.
“We're excited to play Tulsa,” UF senior and team captain Betsy Smith said. “They're a great team and they've got an awesome outside hitter. We're excited to be home in front of our fans and run out the tunnel at least a few more times, hopefully.”
The Florida-Tulsa match follows the opener of the Gainesville Sub-Regional between ACC runner-up Miami and Southern Conference champion College of Charleston at 5 p.m.
The 23rd-ranked Hurricanes (25-5, 17-3 ACC), who are making their fourth straight tournament appearance, recorded their most ACC wins since 2004, while the Cougars (26-7, 14-2 SoCon) are in the field for the seventh time, but first since 2009.
The two winners will advance to second-round action Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with a regional berth in Austin, Texas, Dec. 7-8 on the line.
“We're very excited for the opportunity to host at home,” UF senior Tangerine Wiggs said. “It's a privilege, and we're really proud of our team and how hard we've worked all season to play in front of our fans for another game. We're making sure we understand the opportunity we've been given.”