Memorable home finale for UF's seniors
Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 1:20 a.m.
I wondered if Billy Donovan would have them cut down the nets. I wondered it out loud after the Alabama game because I remembered 2007 when he wanted his team to understand what it had accomplished.
And there they were just before 10 p.m. on Wednesday with scissors and two defenseless nets.
Patric Young pointed to his ring finger as he climbed the ladder and the students began to chant, “One more year!”
It was perfect.
Perfect that they don't have to share this title with anyone. Perfect that on the night they won it outright, it was because of their defense. Perfect that the seniors who have meant so much to this team got the last snips.
The last man up was Kenny Boynton, who came to Florida as a shooter and will leave as a basketball player. Boynton's shooting may have suffered as his career progressed, but he has become so much better at everything else.
And it was perfect that he led the team in scoring on his last night in the O'Dome.
“This was one of our goals,” he said with a grin that wouldn't go away.
All the seniors basked in the glow of something that was special. Mike Rosario might have enjoyed it more than anybody.
He was emotional during the pregame ceremony, tears needing to be wiped away.
“A lot of things were going through my mind,” he said. “Where I grew up, people didn't think I'd go to college. Now, here I am, a fifth-year senior who is going to graduate in May. And I got to do this, win this championship, with my mom watching.”
As this final home game for the seniors and final home game of the year rolled on, you kept waiting for the run. Sure, Florida was playing the kind of defense that put it in this position, but the breathing was a little rapid and the pulses a little quick in the O'Dome when Vanderbilt kept hanging in there.
It was a seven-point lead then up to 13, then back to eight and then BAM! That's all folks.
The 19-3 run was what we expect to see from Florida at home, but it took awhile to come Wednesday night. I don't think it was Senior Night or what was at stake. Vandy played tough defense, and the Gators had to wait for an opening.
“We knew we just had to be patient,” said Casey Prather. “Keep playing defense and the offense would work out.”
And when the opening came, it flooded the Commodores out of the building.
The 19-3 run was part defense, part offense, part one horrendous call on an offensive foul that led to a Kevin Stallings technical. Boynton scored seven points during the run which guaranteed that only one team will be presented a trophy next Friday in Nashville.
Donovan was able to get his seniors out of there with 2:18 to play and a minute later the students began an “S-E-C!” chant.
“We were sitting on the bench and we just told each other, ‘We did it,' ” Boynton said.
After the game, Young went to the north end of the court and grabbed a makeshift sign someone had put together that thanked the seniors and proclaimed Florida as the SEC champions.
Boynton hadn't cut down a net since a high school state championship. Like the rest of his teammates, they want more. But that's for another day. Wednesday was about celebrating a conference championship and the three seniors who led them there.
“I definitely think we've overachieved this year,” said Donovan, who has won or shared five conference titles and understands that they mean a lot more to the people who go through it than the casual observers. “We've done it by being a really good team.”
The best in the SEC.
There still is a game Saturday at Kentucky, which now is important only about national seeding and that it's Kentucky. Then the SEC Tournament. Then the tournament that — unfortunately — defines all teams.
But no matter what happens during the rest of March, they will always have this night.
“It's a dream come true,” Rosario said.
Contact Pat Dooley, sports columnist at The Gainesville Sun and Gainesville Magazine, at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.