Florida has edge in tournament experience
Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 7:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 12:13 a.m.
Florida is heading into its fourth straight NCAA Tournament with one significant edge over the majority of the field.
Who: No. 3 seed Florida vs. No. 14 seed Northwestern State
When: Friday, 7:27 p.m.
Where: Austin, Texas
TV/Radio: truTV/103.7 FM
That edge? Experience in both playing and coaching.
The third-seeded Gators (26-7) are hopeful that postseason maturity will result in another deep March run. Florida opens NCAA Tournament play Friday in Austin, Texas, against No. 14-seed Northwestern State (7:27 p.m., TruTV).
Senior guard Kenny Boynton has appeared in nine NCAA Tournament games, going 6-3 in those games. Junior center Patric Young is 6-2 in his eight NCAA Tournament appearances.
“It's really huge because we know how important each game is,” Young said. “You can't take any team for granted. Any team could beat you at any moment, so you have to really come in locked in and focused on doing your job.”
Florida coach Billy Donovan has led the Gators to 13 NCAA Tournament appearances in 17 seasons. Donovan is 28-10 in the NCAA Tournament. His .733 winning percentage is the third-highest among active coaches behind Roy Williams (61-20, .753) and Mike Krzyzewski (79-23, .775)
Donovan said his approach in coaching NCAA Tournament games is to put his players in positions where they are comfortable.
“Now you're getting into finality,” Donovan said. “What you've got to be able to do in these situations and games is go out there and play with great freedom, great confidence. Just go out there and play. There's always a level of nervousness, jitters, apprehension. It's totally normal. You've got to play through some of that.”
Florida has reached the Elite Eight in each of the last two seasons with chances to go to the Final Four in both years. But the Gators failed to hold 11-point second-half leads in 2011 against Butler and 2012 against Louisville.
“Sometimes, when I just reflect on my career here, I had two chances where I should have possibly, could have possibly been to the Final Four,” Young said. “We just came up short. Can't still linger on it. Can't let it affect me in the future.”
Young said those close losses could serve as motivation this season.
“Yeah. If we get into similar situations as we were in the Butler and Louisville games, just give it more fight, don't let up until the final buzzer rings,” Young said. “When that's over, then you can finally rest. But stay on edge the whole time.”
Close games, though, have been the albatross of the Gators again this season. Florida is 0-6 in games decided by six points or less this season. Florida has let double-digit, second-half leads slip away against Arizona, Missouri and Ole Miss.
Donovan said he felt like his team made plays down the stretch in the SEC Tournament final against Ole Miss, but was unable to put the ball in the basket. Florida finished the game 3 of 10 from the field and 0 of 6 from the free-throw line.
“They're going to have to make the plays they need to make,” Donovan said. “Do I see our guys petrified? Scared? Uptight? Nervous? No. They have to make those plays.”
Young said Florida's inability to win close games is a fair criticism.
“There's plenty of games you could say there, where we've had reasonable leads and there just seemed like a point where we went dead or allowed the team to come back with no resistance,” Young said. “It is fair to say that. It's probably a problem with the team, something that we've been trying to get fixed. I'll say we did a better job (against Ole Miss) of fighting and trying to persevere through. We just didn't finish plays."
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.