Gators savor experience


Florida center Patric Young (from left) Kenny Boynton, Scottie Wilbekin and Erik Murphy laugh while looking at their phones in the locker room after their Sweet 16 win over Florida Gulf Coast at Cowboys Stadium on Friday in Arlington, Texas.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, March 31, 2013 at 7:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 11:00 p.m.

ARLINGTON, Texas — The sports information director working at the NCAA Tournament started to give Erik Murphy instructions on how to handle the break-out room, the area set aside in the bowels of Cowboys Stadium for extensive interviews when teams reach the Elite Eight.

Facts

Sunday's game

Who: No. 3 seed Florida Gators (29-7) vs. No. 4 seed Michigan Wolverines (29-7)
When: 2:20 p.m.
Where: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Gainesville-area TV: CBS
Gainesville-area radio: 103.7 FM

Murphy waved him off.

He knew exactly what to do, how to handle this situation.

This is hardly the first rodeo for these cowboys.

Florida is playing in its third straight Elite Eight and is the only school that has played in the past three. This is old hat, especially for the seniors.

“It's been an unbelievable experience,” Murphy said. “I've played with a lot of different players. Guys have come and gone. But to be here three straight years, that's a testament to coach (Billy) Donovan.”




Remember Murphy and Kenny Boynton came to Florida when the Gators were coming off back-to-back NIT appearances. Those had followed nine straight NCAA appearances and two straight national championships.

Florida has won nine of 13 games in the Big Dance with these seniors. The juniors are 9-3.

For these seniors — Murphy, Boynton and Mike Rosario — there is that knowledge that every time they've taken the court in this NCAA Tournament, it could be for the last time as a Gator.

“It's different,” Boynton said. “When you're a junior or a sophomore or a freshman, you know you'll get a shot next year. But right now, you know if you lose it's over.

“You want it for everyone.”

You think of all the players who came through Florida without a chance to play when the spotlight is the brightest. Neal Walk never did. Nick Calathes didn't. Lee Humphrey and Chris Richard played in the most of any Gators with 15, one more than the famous Oh-Fours who were the backbone of the national titleists.

“I'm definitely fortunate to have played in so many of these games,” Boynton said. “Your goal at the start of every year is to make the NCAA Tournament. Some players don't make it. I've played with some great players on some great teams.”

Florida has one more game to play in this Texas swing. The Gators face Michigan with a berth at the Final Four in Atlanta on the line.

If the Gators win, it would be Donovan's fourth as a coach. He built the program back up after the blips that were the NIT years.

He said he doesn't talk about how fortunate his players are to be on this big stage as much as he talks about how blessed they are to have God-given skills.

“How do they go about utilizing that talent and not wasting days and opportunities and to be thankful and appreciative that they get the opportunity to practice, to prepare and they get the opportunity to play,” Donovan said. “So many players out there that aren't playing right now or they're not afforded the opportunity or they're injured. Be thankful and to utilize what you've been blessed with. Just be the best you can be.”

Florida is the only team in America to play in three straight Elite Eight rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Here's how the Gators who have been around for all three have fared in the Big Dance:

Player Games Pts. Rebs Ast.

^Kenny Boynton 12 162 32 32

^Erik Murphy 12 96 51 5

Patric Young 11 80 53 9

Scottie Wilbekin 11 51 19 23

Casey Prather 8 42 25 6

Mike Rosario 7 66 13 5

*Will Yeguete 6 16 22 3

Totals 67 413 215 83

High scoring game — Boynton, 27 points vs. BYU in 2010.

High rebounding game — Murphy, 10 vs. Marquette in 2012.

High assisting game — Wilbekin, 6 vs. Minnesota 2013 and Boynton, 6 vs. Louisville in 2012.

^—includes single NCAA game in 2010.

*—missed all of 2012 postseason with injury.

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