Gators play second fiddle to Eagles in Arlington
Published: Friday, March 29, 2013 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 9:25 p.m.
ARLINGTON, Texas — As the players from the Florida Gulf Coast team left the elevated court at Cowboys Stadium on Thursday, they were swarmed as if they were rock stars.
Who: No. 3 seed Florida Gators (28-7) vs. No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (26-10)
When: 10:07 p.m.
Where: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Gainesville-area TV: TBS
Gainesville-area radio: 103.7 FM
Considering their short shelf life of popularity, think “The Monkees.”
They walked down the stairs and headed for their locker rooms, and they were followed by cameras, mini-cams and sportswriters with such a fervor you'd have thought the players were dropping free drink cards out of their pockets.
Dunk City is the big story in a state where everything is bigger. Everyone wants an interview with the coach's wife, the former model. Everyone wants to have FGCU's gap-toothed coach Andy Enfield explain how he got her.
Florida hasn't been this much under-the-radar since Don DeVoe was the coach.
“We really aren't too concerned with that,” said Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin. “The media always finds somebody to really get behind, but we can't worry about that. We have a game to play.”
That game will have a lot of eyeballs on it, but not because of the team that has won eight NCAA games in the last three years and has one of college basketball's elite coaches. They'll be watching to see if a school that's younger than all of its players can keep it going.
Welcome to the Sweet 16 in Arlington, Texas.
Kansas has the fans.
Michigan has the star player in Trey Burke.
FGCU has the story.
In other news, Florida is here as well.
Maybe that's good for the Gators. I think Florida fans back home are tighter than a forehead with a Botox overdose. They can't stomach the idea of Florida losing to a 16-year-old school that nobody knew existed two years ago.
But for this team, which has been in Texas for nine days, FGCU is just the next team in their way.
“Both teams are playing for finality,” UF coach Billy Donovan said.
Then there was this reaction from Patric Young when I asked him how it felt to be overshadowed.
“It's pretty much like that since I got to the University of Florida,” he said. “We really haven't got credit for anything we've accomplished over these past few years so I'm used to it.”
I think what Patric was talking about was that Florida was a classic bandwagon team this year. When it was going good, the national media was smooching the Gators. When it wasn't, the media dumped UF like a bad prom date.
At least I think that's what he was talking about.
Certainly, there is no question the Gators, who are favored to win tonight by 13 points, are the afterthoughts of this regional. The Gators are viewed as the big brothers trying to keep the little brother down.
“The pressure,” Wilbekin said, “is being in the Sweet 16.”
The difference between the two teams could be seen after their practices. The Eagles came off to hordes of autograph seekers and fans yelling, “Welcome to Dallas!” At one point, FGCU's Christophe Varidel escaped to the tunnel and said loudly, “This is madness!”
Florida? The Gators walked off quietly as if they were the Washington Generals. Donovan, he of 30 NCAA wins and two national titles, talked in a room with a handful of journalists. It was much more crowded when Enfield spoke. When he finished, the moderator told him he was done for the day and could leave the arena. Thirty minutes later, he and guard Sherwood Brown had been cornered by Craig Sager's jacket and were waiting under the lights for the light to go red.
Tonight, Florida is facing a stadium full of fans who want them to lose. The winner of the first game won't want to play Florida. Everybody else will be rooting for Cinderella.
“It'll be like a road game,” Young said.
At least, at that point, someone will notice that Florida is here.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.