Gators a No. 3 seed in NCAAs
Published: Sunday, March 17, 2013 at 6:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, March 17, 2013 at 8:16 p.m.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Winning the Southeastern Conference regular season title turned out to be enough for Florida to earn a strong seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The No. 13 Gators (26-7) wound up with the No. 3 seed in the South Region and will take on 14th seed Northwestern (Louisiana) State on Friday in Austin, Texas.
"We're excited to be in the NCAA Tournament, and we look forward to a great challenge against Northwestern State on Friday." Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
The game will pit one of the nation’s best defenses against the top offensive team in the country. Florida ranks third in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 53.7 points per game, while Northwestern State leads the country in scoring at 81 points per game, The Demons (23-8) earned an automatic bid by beating Stephen F. Austin in the Southland Conference tournament championship game.
Northwestern State will be making its third NCAA Tournament in 14 seasons under head coach Mike McConathy. The Demons are no strangers to pulling off upsets. In the 2006 NCAA Tournament, as a 14-seed, McConathy led Northwestern State to a 64-63 upset of third-seed Iowa on a fadeaway 3-pointer by Jermaine Wallace with 3 seconds remaining.
“It was a pretty awesome way to end it,” McConathy said. “Of course, that season, we won at Oklahoma State, beat Mississippi State on a neutral floor. We had some confidence.”
McConathy said he sees some similarities between this season’s team and the 2006 team.
“That team had a group that had been together since freshmen and endured a six-win season,” McConathy said. “This team, we have four seniors starting. We’re probably a little bit more offensive minded. We like to get up and down the floor.”
Northwestern State faced three SEC teams in the regular season, which were all losses. The Demons fell 102-95 at LSU, 78-65 at Texas A&M and 78-61 at Arkansas.
Four Northwestern starters average double-figures in scoring, led by 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward DeQuan Hicks (14.1 ppg). McConathy said he also relies heavily on his bench.
“We’ll play 10 to 11 guys,” McConathy said.
After 17 seasons as a Junior College in nearby Bossier City, La., McConathy has spent 14 more years building the Northwestern State program in nearby Natchitoches.
“I’m not good at moving,” McConathy said. “I’m a Louisiana guy. My family, my friends are all here within a 70-mile radius. I just try to approach my job as doing it the best I can each day.”
If the Gators get by Northwestern State, they could face some familiar faces down the road. Opposite Florida’s bracket in Austin is six-seed UCLA against 11-seed Minnesota. The Gators have beaten UCLA three times in the NCAA Tournament (2006 finals, 2007 Final Four, 2011 round of 32). Minnesota, meanwhile, is coached by former Kentucky coach Tubby Smith.
Georgetown is the No. 2 seed in the South Region and Kansas is the No. 1 seed. Florida played a half against Georgetown in its season-opener on the USS Bataan in Jacksonville, but the game was called with UF up 27-23 at halftime.
Florida is coming off a disappointing 66-63 loss to Ole Miss in Sunday’s SEC Tournament final. The Gators let a 12-point halftime lead slip away by allowing the Rebels to outscore them 40-25 in the second half.
“We didn’t do a good job of being alert on defense,” Florida junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said. “It was just a loss of focus by us.”