Upsets everywhere, but not in Austin
Published: Friday, March 22, 2013 at 11:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 23, 2013 at 1:12 a.m.
AUSTIN, Texas — They didn't need any reminders, but they were flying at them faster than the cars down I-35. Highly seeded teams were falling by the side of the road, their journeys to the tourney ending with jerseys pulled over their heads.
If it wasn't enough that they knew all about these upsets, there it was in living color on the video board hanging over the court at the Frank Erwin Center. During timeouts, they showed the final minutes of Florida Gulf Coast's epic upset of Georgetown.
Meanwhile, back on the court, the Florida Gators were trying to deal with another team trying to make a name for itself and doing a pretty good job of it. In a weird setting where they didn't let fans into the arena until about five minutes before tip-off, the Northwestern State attack was finding holes in Florida's defense.
It felt a lot like the second half of the Ole Miss game last Sunday. But in the second half, Florida found itself. It started to defend, rebounded the misses and let it fuel its offense.
And not only was one of those crazy Big Dance upsets averted, it was crushed.
“Our main focus was energy,” senior guard Kenny Boynton said of the halftime discussions. “We were giving up wide-open layups.”
Too many. There was only one way the Demons could win this game and ruin brackets. They had to make shots. Defend? They just aren't long or tall enough. Florida had no trouble scoring, but when it allowed 32 points in the first half, it got coach Billy Donovan's attention.
“I think our guys were surprised at the way they were coming back at them on the other end,” Donovan said.
That's what can happen in the NCAA Tournament. You can watch a team on tape, but you don't know. It's different during conference play when everyone knows everyone. But when you get to this level, you never know what you're going to see.
“It was unique,” Donovan said.
You literally could not write down what happened on one end before something happened on the other end. It was the kind of game Florida likes to play, but Northwestern State likes it even more. The Demons kept running their hockey lines in there and there was no discernible difference between the First Wave and the Second Wave.
This was a skilled offensive basketball team that came into this tournament playing well. They played well enough for a half to make Gator fans nervous. And then they scored twice to start the second half. One of those baskets came on a rebound when guard Mike Rosario failed to block out and — as a result — he spent much of the half on the bench.
But after climbing within four, Northwestern State went 2-of-16 over the next 13:53 of game time with seven turnovers. And that allowed Florida to blow the game open.
“You have to give them a lot of credit,” said Demon guard Shamir Davis. “But it wasn't all their defense. We missed a lot of shots we normally make.”
Florida did not. The Gators shot 47.5 percent for the game and we all know that's the best way to score more points than the other team. Works every time.
So Florida advances like everyone expected and yet nobody took for granted. The Gators will now play a Sunday game to see if they advance, and they have a better feeling for the arena. More than that, they got the first-game jitters out. They made Patric Young winded early. Sometimes that happens.
And sometimes a team sits around watching upset after upset and wonders whether it can happen to them. Sometimes, a team gets overconfident thinking it can't happen to them.
“I talk to them a lot about that,” said Donovan. “People talk about upsets, why are they surprised anymore? When the ball goes up, we don't get 10 extra points for being a higher seed. You can't get so wrapped up in it and lose sight about what you are supposed to do.
“But I'm not going to pull the plugs on their TVs.”
Wouldn't matter. The video board was showing them anyway.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.