Monday March 25, 2013Gators Basketball Notebook: Leftovers from Austin
Updated: 4:53pm, March 25
Updated: 4:53pm, March 25
Gators guard Mike Rosario drives to the basket in Sunday's win over Minnesota.
SOMEWHERE ON INTERSTATE 35 -- After their three-game clangfest at the Southeastern Conference Tournament last week, plus Friday night’s win over Northwestern State in opening-round play of the NCAA South Region, the Gators went into Sunday’s quarterfinal game against Minnesota having made just 45 of their 80 free throws in the postseason.
That’s 56.2 percent.
That’s not good, especially in March.
There were some anxious second-half moments, but the 3rd-seeded Gators (28-7) took care of business against the 11th-seeded Gophers for a 78-64 victory. That UF advanced to the Sweet 16 to face 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast (26-10) was the biggest feel-good takeaway from the game, but don’t discount UF’s performance at the free-throw line in finishing 26 of 36 to help close things out.
That’s 72.2 percent.
That’s much better, especially in late March.
“Before every free throw we came together and said, ‘We need two,’ ” senior guard Kenny Boynton said. “We’re supposed to knock down free throws.”
Two nights earlier, UF went 14-for-23 (60.9 percent), but did go 12-for-17 in the second half, which equates to 38 of 53 over the last 60 minutes of basketball. All NCAA Tournament basketball.
Or 71.7 percent.
When Patric Young (49.6) and Will Yeguete (58.8) combine to go 10-for-16, that’s a big boost. Plus, some of their key makes came when the Gophers were staging that comeback from 23 down to just seven.
“Knocking down the free throws let them know we were still pouring the points on,” Young said. “They could keep fouling us, but the momentum was not totally going to shift their way just because we were at the line.”
>>> HOW SWEET IT IS
Junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin could only shake his head. Three years at Florida, three Sweet 16 appearances.
That’s a first for the Florida program.
“It’s a great achievement,” Wilbekin said. “I guess, like you said, it’s making history, but it seems like that’s normal for us. I haven’t experienced what it’s like to lose early in the NCAA Tournament and I’m grateful for that.”
No one in the UF locker room was taking it for granted.
“It’s just an amazing feeling,” junior forward Casey Prather said. “I think it speaks volumes about our program and our coaches.”
Only four teams in the nation have reached the Sweet 16 three years in a row. Along with the Gators, the short list includes just Kansas, Ohio State and Marquette.
“I’m really proud of our kids,” Donovan said. “This, obviously, is a long journey for everybody involved and it started way back on Sept. 1 with preseason. To get to this point, we’re very excited and looking forward to next weekend.”
>>> STATE OF THE STATE IS SWEET, TOO
A couple hours after UF’s victory, the Miami Hurricanes, seeded second in the East, dispatched of Illinois at the Erwin Center.
The Big Ten may have four teams in the Sweet 16, but the Sunshine State -- with the Gators, Hurricanes and FGCU Eagles -- have three.
“The state of Florida has great basketball teams,” UM All-America guard Shane Larkin said. “Florida Gulf Coast was a team we played early in the season and they beat us. A lot of people gave us grief for that, but now they’re showing they’re a great team.”
Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga, named last week as National Coach of the Year, found unique situations with each of the three programs.
“Billy Donovan has been at Florida now  years and done a fantastic job,” he said. “[FGCU Andy Enfield], on the other hand, this is only the second year of competing at this level and he’s done a fantastic job of bringing players in I thought went under the radar screen.”
UM, he went on, had a nice core of players when he arrived, but adding the likes of Larkin and UF transfer Kenny Kadji gave the Canes “the ingredients” to make a run this year to capture the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season and tournament championships.
“There’s not only a lot of good college basketball being played in the state,” Larranaga said, “but a lot of good high school basketball as well.”
>>> FREE THROWS
The 25 points Mike Rosario scored in the win over the Gophers was his career-high as a Gator, besting the 22 in a blowout win at Auburn last month. But Rosario’s career career high remains 33, which he got as a sophomore at Rutgers against St. John’s on Feb. 2, 2010. ... Donovan was hired as UF’s basketball coach on March 29, 1996. That’s 17 months before Florida Gulf Coast opened its campus for its first academic year. ... With two NCAA Tournament wins by margins of 32 and 14, the Gators now have a combined margin of victory this season of 18.2 points. That leads the nation. ... In the Friday night win against Northwestern State, the Gators held the top-scoring team (81.5 points per game) in the NCAA this season to just five second-half field goals and 5-for-26 shooting. In the first half against Minnesota, UF limited the Gophers to 9-for-23 from the floor in building a 21-point lead at the break. Combine those two halves (the second vs. NW State and first vs. Minnesota) and Florida allowed just 14-for-29 from floor. Or 28.5 percent. ... Florida's 26 free throws and 36 attempts were both season highs on Sunday.