Gators counting on veterans to keep moving in March

Florida senior center Kevarrius Hayes pressures Nevada forward Caleb Martin during Thursday's NCAA Tournament game in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

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DES MOINES, Iowa Kevarrius Hayes is playing the way one would expect from a senior. The Florida Gators look to ride his leadership deep into the NCAA Tournament.

Hayes scored a team-high 16 points Thursday to help 10 seed Florida hold off No. 7 seed Nevada, 70-61, and gain a spot in the Round of 32 for the third consecutive season. Florida led by 18 points at one point in the second half only to see the advantage almost disappear.

“For the most part we played at our tempo to get to the big lead, but when they started to make their run, we were playing to their tempo,” Hayes said. “They sped us up, we started making careless turnovers and getting to the basket was a challenge. We started watching the clock and felt too comfortable. We regressed.”

But the Gators regrouped.

“We relied on each other, stayed within ourselves and good things happened,” said Hayes, who has averaged double-figure scoring in the Gators’ last 11 games. “We came together to close out the game.”

Florida (20-15) will need a similar effort or more today against No. 2 seed Michigan (29-6), which routed Montana 74-55 later Thursday to set up today’s 5:15 p.m. meeting with a berth in the Sweet 16 on the line.

“Every team has a right to be here,” Hayes said. “We’ll have to bring our best effort, because that’s what that team is going to do.

“We proved ourselves in the first round and we’ll have to prove ourselves once again in the second round.”

Today’s game breakdown

Sizing up Michigan: The Wolverines thrashed the Grizzlies defensively and never allowed Montana to even sniff an upset in a 19-point opening-round win. Charles Matthews looked like the healthiest he has been since before injuring his ankle in late February against Michigan State and the offense had solid flow most of the game, despite a few early turnovers. More important, Michigan reminded everyone of how swarming its defense can be if you’re not fully prepared for it or haven’t seen it before. Playing this team on a one-day prep is incredibly difficult, as is scoring in general.

Sizing up Florida: Florida’s the highest-rated double-digit seed in the tournament, per KenPom’s efficiency numbers. On Thursday night, Nevada found that out the hard way. The Gators only had four Quadrant 1 wins this year, but they played in 16 of those games. They’re battle-tested. Florida wants to play slow and rely on its defense, as the Gators scratched out most of their quality wins this season via old fashioned rock fights. Florida isn’t a great 3-point shooting team (33.5 percent) and makes less than 50 percent of its 2s. However, the Gators allow opponents to shoot just 32 percent from deep and have a defensive turnover percentage (turnovers forced over 100 possessions) of 22.6, which is outstanding. Offensively? It can be a struggle. Jalen Hudson, Keyontae Johnson and KeVaughn Allen can get to the rim. But Florida’s not going to put on an offensive show most games. This team relies on a deliberate pace and grind-it-out defense.

“They’ve got a great mixture of some really good talent, but some seniors who have had really great careers there,” Michigan coach John Beilein said Friday. “They’ve had a lot of success in the postseason, and they had a great win yesterday over a Reno team that was in the top-10 earlier in the year.”

Bottom line: Florida may look at what Montana did to get Michigan into some early turnover issues and push its already capable defense in that direction Saturday, as this game could be a low-scoring grinder. Michigan’s coaching staff remarked after the Montana win that Florida reminds them a bit of Maryland, a Big Ten foe Michigan toppled twice. The Gators have athletes, they’re physical and they contest everything defensively. Can they score enough, though?

Florida, on paper, is a worse version of Michigan in that its defense out-paces its offense. Problem there for the Gators is that they entered the tournament No. 61 nationally in offensive efficiency and No. 15 in defense. Michigan was No. 18 and No. 2, respectively. Michigan’s the better team and this is a much better matchup for the Wolverines than

Nevada might have been. The Gators are much more capable than their 20-15 record might show, but can Florida score enough points? First team to 60 wins this game.

Sun wire services contributed to this report.


What: NCAA West Regional Second Round

Who: No. 10 seed Florida (20-15) vs. No. 2 Michigan (29-6)

When: 5:15 p.m.

Where: Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa.

TV/radio: CBS, 103.7-FM



Name; Pos.; Ht.; Wt.; Class; Per Game

Keyontae Johnson; F; 6-5; 225; Fr.;8.1 pts;6.3 reb

Kevarrius Hayes; F; 6-9; 227; Sr.; 8.3 pts;6.2 reb

Jalen Hudson;F;6-6;195; R-Sr.;9.2 pts;2.9 reb

KeVaughn Allen; G; 6-2; 193; Sr.; 11.9 pts;2.8 reb

Andrew Nembhard;PG;6-5;191;Fr.;8.1 pts;5.3 ast


Ignas Brazdeikis; F; 6-7;215;Fr.;15.0 pts;5.3 reb

Jon Teske; C; 7-1; 260; Jr.;9.7 pts;7.0 reb

Charles Matthews; G; 6-6; 205; Sr.;12.3 pts;5.0 reb

Jordan Poole; G; 6-5;195;Soph.;12.7 pts;2.9 reb

Zavier Simpson; PG; 6-0;190;Jr.;9.0 pts;6.7 ast

Notes: Florida and Michigan have advanced to the NCAA Round of 32 for the third consecutive season. Michigan lost in the national title game last season to Villanova … The Wolverines beat the Gators in the Elite Eight on their way to the 2013 national championship game. … UF coach Mike White is just the sixth coach in SEC history to win 20 games in each of his first four seasons in the league, joining Nolan Richardson, Tubby Smith, Jerry Green, Bruce Pearl, John Calipari. … UF is 44-17 all-time in 20 NCAA tournaments, including 5-2 under White. Michigan is 60-27 in 29 NCAA appearances, with a national title in 1989.


  1. What y’all need to count on Gators is your DNA! Michigan, albeit has more Final Fours, your brand, ”The University of Florida” has MORE NATIONAL CHAMPSIONSHIPS in D1 basketball than the almighty Michigan Wolverines. And so much like Florida Basketball encouraged on the 2006 Football team to match their National Championship (and they did get one too) now it’s the FLORIDA FOOTBALL showing the way in beating Michigan (see this year’s Peach Bowl). And so get all up in their faces, without fouling of course, and do what y’all do! Go Gators! Keep calm, and chomp-on!

  2. I’m not predicting it actually, but what would be a really cool way to win would be the young quartet going off – KJ, Nembhard, Locke, and Stokes. What the hell, you heard it here first: a collective 50 points, 10 assists, 17 boards, against 2 turnovers. Book it, in an extremely unexpected Gator rout.

    • Thanks so much for level-setting us aloha. Certainly none of us were aware of the Gators’ limitations this year. In any event, given what we’ve got this year, I suspect sometime soon you will ultimately be correct with your doomsday predictions. Nonetheless, if the team is going to grind like they do, I think I can at least do the same from my couch as a fan. You do you, I’ll do me I guess.

  3. Interesting how few comments there are leading up to an important game for the Gators. Stark contrast to the multitude of comments after a loss. Many who protested the loudest that the Gators wouldn’t make the tournament are conspicuously silent now that they’ve made it to the second round with a legitimate chance to make the Sweet 16. Michigan is certainly good and has a height advantage a couple of positions, but I don’t think they’re particularly athletic. The Gators’ D should give them a chance.

  4. It is too bad that UF has to count on one veteran named K. Allen. He missed his first three shots early and has not taken a shot since. In fact, I have watched him every time the Gators have the ball, and Nembard looks everywhere else besides him and IF he passes it to him, Allen dribbles around and passes it to someone else. I am sorry, but he has serious issues with confidence and that is why he is never consistently good. Too bad, but I am glad he is out after this year. Otherwise, so far, great game from the Gators, they are hanging in there.

    Go Gators!!