GATORS IN THE SWEET 16
Florida still seeking peak at tourney
Published: Monday, March 24, 2014 at 8:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 24, 2014 at 8:41 p.m.
Florida senior center Patric Young relayed a tale on how the Gators have stayed motivated through recent success.
NCAA Tournament, Sweet 16
Who: (1) Florida (34-2) vs. (4) UCLA (28-8)
Where: Memphis, Tenn.
When: Approx. 9:45 p.m.
“The mountain thing,” Young said. “That's the newest one and I like it a lot.”
It began when Florida coach Billy Donovan shared a fact with his team about those who attempt to climb Mount Everest. Donovan told his team that there is a halfway point where hikers can relax, get water and oxygen.
“Coach asked, 'What's the percentage of the people that go to that relaxation point and that continue to go to the top?',” Young said.
The answer? Only 20 percent.
“So we said, 'Let's not be fat and happy, going halfway, going 18-0 in the SEC, going to the SEC tournament, winning it, going to the Sweet 16,'” Young said. “Let's continue to be that 20 percent that keeps fighting, and fights human nature to reach the top.'”
Florida (34-2) continues that climb Thursday in a Sweet 16 matchup with UCLA (CBS, 9:45 p.m. ET) in Memphis, Tenn., at the FedEx Forum. With Wichita State (35 games) and Stephen F. Austin (29 games) both losing Sunday, UF's current school-record 28-game winning streak is the longest in the nation.
But the climb isn't over, and one more loss would end the Gator journey short of mountain top.
“It's very, very easy in the middle of your climb to look back, see how far you've come, to want to rest, relax, maybe lose sight or perspective of where you started out as a team and how you're trying to continue on in that journey,” Donovan said. “When you're climbing, you're dealing with a lot of adversity. You're dealing with a lot of challenges. There's a lot of struggles.
“But there's also a lot of great things, opportunity‑wise out there in front of you, and I think the minute you start to look back on where you've come from, where you've been, and you pause and you do that, I think you lose sight of what's out in front of you, and maybe you never get a chance to realize your fullest potential as an individual or as a team.”
The climb the last three seasons at the NCAA tournament has ended in the second weekend of the tournament with three straight Elite Eight appearances. Florida is trying to break through for its first Final Four appearance since 2007.
The top-seeded Gators have overcome their share of adversity. Florida won six of those games by five points or less, needing overtime to win at Arkansas and a last-second defensive stop to beat Kentucky in the SEC tournament title game.
"Being down at halftime, playing out of a hole against Tennessee, against Kentucky, being up against Kentucky in the championship game and them making a run and having to get a stop, all those things that you go through in your season helps, especially in the postseason,” Florida senior forward Will Yeguete said.
The next obstacle in front of Florida is UCLA (28-8). Florida is 3-0 in the NCAA tournament against the Bruins, with wins in 2006, 2007 and 2011, but Donovan said he feels none of that will factor into the outcome of Thursday's game. He's concerned about a UCLA team that should test UF's strong, connected defense. Under first-year coach Steve Alford, the Bruins are averaging 81.5 points per game.
After watching film on UCLA on Monday morning, Donovan said the Bruins “are the most explosive and unique offensive team that we've faced this year.
“Those guys do a tremendous job of getting out in transition and running,” Donovan said. “They're a tremendous running team and they're a tremendous passing team. I think if you look at their assists, they average about 17 assists a game. That's phenomenal.”
Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said he had no lingering effects from a knee injury he suffered last in UF's 61-45 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday.
“It's OK,” Wilbekin said. “It's just a bruise.”
After scoring a team-high 21 points against the Panthers, Wilbekin sat out the final 1:19 of the game after knocking knees with a Pittsburgh player while chasing a loose ball.
Donovan happy for SEC
Donovan said he was pleased to see three SEC teams reach the Sweet 16. Florida (South), Tennessee (Midwest) and Kentucky (Midwest) all have advanced to their respective region semifinals.
The SEC is 7-0 in NCAA tournament play, the best record for a conference going into the Sweet 16 since the Big East went 8-0 in 2003.
Donovan said he felt the SEC got unfairly pegged as a weak conference this season based on non-conference losses in November in December. Florida entered the NCAAs seventh in the nation in Conference RPI.
“I've always had great respect for our league,” Donovan said. “I think our league can play with any league in the country.
“But I would say this, and I've said this before: Just because a certain league teams get knocked out early doesn't mean the league is overrated, and because a league really, really advances in the tournament doesn't mean the league is great. I just get upset when all of a sudden everybody just throws out and makes assumptions or draws conclusions of a league being good or bad based on what's happened in the non‑conference.”
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.
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