Gators need to be ready for different animal in tournament time

Missouri guard Jabari Brown takes a shot over Texas A&M's Jordan Green during the Tigers' 91-83 double overtime win in the SEC Tournament on Thursday.

Matt Stamey / Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 8:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 9:40 p.m.

ATLANTA — Back in Gainesville, Florida waited.

And waited.

And waited.

The Gators pushed back practice so they knew exactly who they were going to play when they got to Atlanta. Two UF assistant coaches sat on press row and scouted a game that kept going every time you thought it was over.

This is tournament time and things like this happen. It took almost three hours to determine a winner in the first game of the second round of the SEC Tournament on Thursday.

But when the Gators hit the practice court they knew. And they know what they are in for Friday.

There is no secret to Missouri. Its guards knock down 3s and drive to the lane. On Thursday in a double-overtime win against Texas A&M, the Tigers attempted 53 free throws. That's not a misprint. The guards scored 32 of their 34 first-half points.

“It was good to see,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “We got back on track offensively.”

Just six days ago, the Tigers were awful in Knoxville. They lost 72-45 and were bounced to the back end of the bubble. The three guards who scored 62 points on Thursday were 6 of 28 against Tennessee.

But that was then. This is wow.

Tournaments always have a wow factor that isn't there during the regular season.

There are no road games in the postseason, and the total number of fans cheering for either team in the Georgia Dome on Thursday was far less than the number of free throws taken. The majority watched quietly and thought about today when the big dogs plays.

There is none bigger, as we know, than Florida.

“They had a real good regular season,” said Missouri's Jabari Brown. “But it's postseason now.”

Yep, we get that.

For much of the second-round game, Missouri was in control. But crazy things happen in the postseason, like a seldom-used walk-on named Blake McDonald making a steal in the first overtime and feeding Alex Caruso for the tying lay-up on a play that looked like Larry Bird to Dennis Johnson.

There were times when it looked like Florida would be facing a team with nothing to lose. Instead, it faces a team in need of a resume-inflating win.

“Missouri is a dangerous team,” A&M coach Billy Kennedy said, “because they can score.”

Let's face it. Florida could do everyone a big favor by rolling over for Missouri on Friday.

I'm kidding, of course, because that's not the way this works. The Gators will come here determined to cut down some more nets and bring home another trophy.

But think of all of the smiling faces in Atlanta if Mizzou was to pull off the upset Friday.

It would probably give the SEC another team in the NCAA Tournament. It would give Kentucky fans, who have already dominated the Georgia Dome before their team even plays a game, a sense of hope in a hopeless season.

And it would give the Gator team a nice rest heading into next week's NCAA Tournament.

Yeah, right. Like this team fought through 18 conference games to tank it in Atlanta. After a historic run in the regular season, you may feel like this tournament is icing on the best cake ever and the candles will be lit next week. But this team will take the first step of the postseason Friday. After 23 straight wins, why not nine more?

Missouri is the only team that we know stands in the way.

“It's a chance for us to go out there and show what we can do,” said senior guard Earnest Ross.

It's exactly the opportunity Missouri needs. And there is no way of knowing whether Ross playing 48 minutes and four other players being on the floor for at least 37 minutes will result in dead legs today. Or whether the win results in an extra gear for a motivated team that had Florida on the ropes in Gainesville before fading at the end.

“Nobody's going to feel sorry for us,” Haith said.

Nope. Not in the postseason. Not at this tournament where one head coach lost his job before he could see if there were mints on his hotel-room pillow.

This time of the year is a different animal with sharp teeth and no conscience.


Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at And follow at

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