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Tuesday March 26, 2013 Embedded with the Gators: Day 1 in Dallas

breakfastDALLAS -- For the Florida Gators, Monday was technically an “off day,” with the team busing from Austin to Dallas, about 25 miles from the site of this weekend’s NCAA South Region bracket at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The squad lifted weights at the Dallas Mavericks complex late in the afternoon, then had the night off. Most of the players went to a local mall, while Billy Donovan and his assistants went out to dinner with Mavs coach Rick Carlisle and his staff.

Tuesday morning, it was back to basketball business.

The Gators had their team breakfast at 10 a.m., followed by their first review -- the good and the bad -- of the 78-64 win over Minnesota in Sunday's regional quarterfinal. There was very little talk about the next opponent, giant-killing 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast, which shocked second-seeded Georgetown and handily defeated San Diego State over the weekend.

Instead, Donovan talked about the Eagles in a radio interview with CBS Sports and then a teleconference with his beat media after breakfast.

Among the topics he touched on:

* On Florida Gulf Coast: “They’re just a really good team. They’re terrific. They’re as good as anyone we played this year. You cannot just go in and beat Miami, which was a top-five team the entire year, and Georgetown, another top five team, unless you’re really good. You don’t get to the Sweet 16 unless you’re really good. The only thing surprising to me is that they’re a 15 seed.”

* His relationship with FGCU coach Andy Enfield: He got to know him a little bit from Enfield's time as an assistant with mentor Rick Pitino, then with the Boston Celtics, and later as an assistant for Leonard Hamilton at Florida State when they crossed paths recruiting and at their annual games against the Seminoles.
* A proposed preseason scrimmage between UF and FGCU: Enfield called Donovan to try to schedule the Gators for one of their two NCAA-sanctioned preseason scrimmages. Donovan declined, though, explaining he wanted to scrimmage Rollins because it ran a Princeton-style offense that would better prepare UF for its opener against Georgetown. Enfield promised he could give Donovan a really competitive game, saying the Eagles were stocked with “high-major” players. “So I’m not one bit surprised with the year they’ve had, based on our conversation. He was telling me how good they were and very special they could be.”

* The past experience of facing a “Cinderella” team in the tournament (aka George Mason): “The country may give a team a label. We never do that. We’re looking at a team on film and what they do and the things we have to do against them. We have to prepare for this game like any other game. This is a really good team that has played exceptionally well, maybe as well as any team in the country.”

* On senior guard Mike Rosario following his 25-point night against the Gophers: “Mike has made incredible strides. ... He’s nowhere near now where he was last year. I’m really proud with what he’s been able to do -- as a kid and for our team. He’s a great teammate and adores the guys he plays with.”

* On missing so much school for this extended roadtrip: Donovan explained UAA academic advisor Tom Williams, who routinely travels with the team, is coordinating school responsibilities, such as arranging for point guard Scottie Wilbekin to take a test online Sunday night after the Minnesota game.

SMU logoImmediately following the teleconference, Donovan and the Gators boarded a bus to Southern Methodist University. There, they practiced for about 90 minutes on the women’s court before returning to the team hotel in downtown Dallas.

Practice was mostly focused on Florida, with a little intro to the Eagles and what they like to do. The real scouting begins tonight when assistant coach John Pelphrey rolls out his “First Look” presentation of FGCU after the team dinner.

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