Thursday December 6, 2012 NCAA VOLLEYBALL NOTEBOOK: Gators prepare for rowdy reception, plus more tidbits
Updated: 1:28pm, December 6
Updated: 1:28pm, December 6
Photo: A look inside Gregory Gym, home court of the Longhorns (TexasSports.com).
AUSTIN, Texas -- The Florida volleyball team checked into its downtown hotel here late Wednesday night and immediately checked out mentally for a good night's rest.
The Gators (27-4), the No. 14 seed in the NCAA Tournament, know they will need it with Friday's Sweet 16 match against No. 3 seed Texas (25-4) at Gregory Gym, the Longhorns' home court.
The last time Florida visited Austin their trip was shorter than expected when the No 1 overall seed Gators were swept by Purdue in a neutral-court match. There will be nothing neutral about Friday night's match at the 4,000-seat home of the Longhorns.
"There will be about 10 or 12 Gator fans -- in the corner probably on the second level -- and the rest cheering for Texas,'' Gators coach Mary Wise quipped.
Wise is 12-5 all-time against the Longhorns, including 4-2 in the NCAA Tournament. The Gators knocked Texas from the tournament in each of Wise's first four seasons from 1991-94. The win in 1993 was in Austin and earned Florida a Final Four berth.
The most recent meeting between the schools in the postseason came in 2007 when Texas defeated Florida 3-1 in the Sweet 16 at the O'Connell Center. When the teams met earlier this season in the Nike Big Four Classic -- a 3-0 Texas sweep -- the match was held at Penn State.
Wise played up the underdog role as something that has fueled Florida's young team.
"This group has embraced the round of 16 similar as they have the rest of the season,'' Wise said. "There is really no pressure on the Gators."
That approach has worked as Florida won the SEC title and then knocked off Tulsa and College of Charleston at home last weekend to open the tournament.
The setting Friday will be perhaps as intense as any the Gators have faced. They don't seem to mind.
"It's always fun to play a team on its home court,'' sophomore defensive specialist Taylor Unroe said. "Texas has a great gym. All the fans are right there. It's going to be fun. We know they are going to be super excited. We would be too if we were playing in the O'Dome. It's going to be a great environment, a rowdy environment I'm sure."
GATORS MANN UP
The biggest obstacle the Gators face against the Longhorns won't be crowd noise, but rather the Longhorns' front line of physical and powerful hitters.
Texas' tandem of Haley Eckerman and Bailey Webster has combined for more than 800 kills this season.
Florida middle blocker Chloe Mann will have plenty of chances to make plays Friday. Wise said it's often Mann, the SEC Player of the Year, who sets the tone for Florida.
"I think they are the reflection of a player like Chloe Mann,'' Wise said of the steady outlook that personifies this Florida team. "She plays hard, competes, but saves her best for the production, not the post-production."
NO EXCUSES VS. IT'S ON
Florida freshman outside Gabby Mallette is experiencing the NCAA Tournament for the first time along with five other true freshmen on the Gators' roster.
Still, she sounded like a veteran when talking about Florida's mentality heading to Austin, in part thanks to Florida's team motto.
"We're really focused and really determined for this game,'' Mallette said. "We have everything that it takes but it's more about fine-tuning stuff now. There are no excuses."
'No excuses' is Florida's official motto. The Longhorns have one, too: 'It's on.' Texas wears black wristbands to reinforce the mindset.
"We've accepted the pressure and the challenge with open arms,'' Webster told the Austin American-Statesman. "All I can see is the Florida Gators."
No Excuses vs. It's On is scheduled for 8 p.m. EDT Friday.
DRAWING ON PAST
The Gators lost to Texas 27-29, 22-25, 24-26 in late August. It was just Florida's fourth match of the season and the Gators were still trying to figure each other out on the court and in the locker room.
"The biggest thing is that we have a set lineup,'' Unroe said. "Back then we were rotating people in and out all the time. We weren't really flowing well together as a team yet. Our younger players have gotten a lot more experience."
Wise makes sure to point out that Texas has improved as well. Still, while the Longhorns are considered the favorite Friday, the Gators won't be intimidated.
"It was a 0-3 loss in sets, but decided by a total of seven points,'' Wise said. "I mean, we were right there in each match. We were able to generate enough kills, and that's something with the size of their block that we were concerned about."
"If they go first-swing kills -- pass, set, kill -- that's when the crowd really gets going. They get energized,'' Wise said. "That's when the matches go way to fast. We are going to do everything we can to slow it down."
A look at Florida-Texas matches in the NCAA Tournament:
1987 -- (Second round, Austin, Texas) Texas W 3-0
1991 -- (Regional semi, Baton Rouge, La.) Florida W 3-1
1992 -- (Regional final, Gainesville) Florida W 3-2
1993 -- (Regional final, Austin) Florida W 3-2
1994 -- (Second round, Gainesville) Florida W 3-0
1995 -- (Regional final, Gainesville) Texas W 3-2
2007 -- (Regional semi, Gainesville) Texas W 3-1