Gators elated after getting over The Hump
Published: Saturday, March 29, 2014 at 10:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, March 30, 2014 at 12:19 a.m.
MEMPHIS — The message before the game was simple. Destiny brought you here. You were brought together for a reason.
Now they know the reason.
“Walking up that ladder,” said Patric Young, “I just was probably thinking how I wanted to be able to do this again.”
Three times they have cut down nets. If the Gators do it a fourth time, well, we all know what that means.
These seniors cleared The Hump, the obstacle that had made their previous three seasons unfulfilling. On Saturday in front of a raucous bunch of Dayton fans, they didn't let the Ghost of Elite Eights haunt them for a second.
Instead, they found a way to win. Again. They didn't have their “A game,” and it didn't matter. They made only five second-half baskets, and it didn't matter. They became stagnant on offense and allowed the Flyers to bomb their way back into the game with open 3-pointers.
No matter how loud the crowd or how desperate the opponent, it wasn't going to matter. Not this year. Not this time.
“Unbelievable,” senior Will Yeguete said. “We're here. We're going to the Final Four this year.”
It was kind of humorous to see the looks of disbelief on their faces when it was over. Despite the winning streak and the seeding and the senior leadership and everyone picking them, they knew this was going to be a major battle. They knew that anything can happen in the tournament.
Just not this time.
When Scottie Wilbekin hit another one of those last-second 3s at the end of the half (first waving off a Billy Donovan-called play to take the shot), you thought it might be over. Scottie didn't.
“I don't think it demoralized them at all,” he said. “They came out of halftime ready to play.”
Said Young: “Deflated them and inflated us. But no game in college basketball history has ever been over in 20 minutes.”
The Flyers would chip away and Florida would pull away. Dayton would get a stop and Florida would get an offensive rebound to kill more clock.
Florida, with its small margin for error, played to its identity — defend and rebound. Destiny brought them together to win, not to offer highlight videos. And now they have won 30 in a row. At the SEC tournament, Donovan talked about how difficult it is to win 30 games in a season. How about 30 in a row?
“These guys have been able to put, for whatever reason, stuff behind them,” Donovan said.
He called this another of those “human-nature games.” Human nature tells you that you are the top seed in the tournament and Dayton is an 11. Human nature says that all you have to do is beat an 11 seed — AN 11 SEED! — and you're there, in the Final Four.
For the four seniors, did you really think they would get to this point and then fall short again?
“It wasn't pretty, but we all stuck with it,” said Young, a strand of nylon sticking out of his hat and a “NET WORTHY” T-shirt already soaked in sweat. “We all faced countless things that brought us down and brought us to rock bottom, but we all bounced back.
“Just indescribable how we can go through all that and be where we are today.”
Young dealt with out-of-whack expectations that were more about how he looked than how he played.
Will Yeguete dealt with injuries that threatened his career.
Wilbekin dealt with two suspensions and a sprained ankle, and, on Saturday was cramping up early in the second half.
Casey Prather, as Donovan said Saturday, thought he was a 3-point shooter and had to go through three years of being an unproductive bench player.
It's hardly the cast of characters that anyone thought could accomplish what this team has so far this year. But it is the character of these players that has made them unbeatable since early December.
“There's more hunger within us,” Young said.
Destiny hasn't filled up their bellies yet.
That's the thing about tournament basketball. Every game starts with butterflies hatching in your stomach and every victory makes you that much hungrier for more.
“We're happy,” said Michael Frazier II, “but we know we have one more step to go.
Destiny will be there waiting.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.