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Wednesday March 14, 2012Gators Head to Omaha Ready For "Test of Wills"

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The University of Florida left for the NCAA Tournament Wednesday knowing that quite a task -- both competitively and mentally -- awaits them in Omaha, Neb. 


“We’ve watched them,” junior shooting guard Kenny Boynton said. “We’ve been warned.” 


Boynton, of course, is talking about the Virginia Cavaliers, UF’s opponent in Friday’s start to the NCAA West Region at CenturyLink Center. The 25th-ranked and seventh-seeded Gators (23-10) face the 10th-seeded Cavaliers. Tipoff is 2:10 p.m. EST (on TNT). 


Gators coach Billy Donovan hopes his players’ heads aren’t swelling with frustration by 2:30. 


“It’s going to be a test of wills,” Donovan said. 


Florida will look to set an up-tempo and chaotic pace that leads to open 3-point shots. Virginia, meanwhile, is opportunistic, but also more disciplined. The Cavs will run when available, but where they’ll test the Gators’ patience is if the game slows down and becomes a half-court fistfight the likes of which UVa, which allowed an Atlantic Coast Conference low 53.7 points per game, will be delighted to play.


That’s why during practice this week, Donovan and his staff ran drills that had UF players running through a multitude of screens -- hard ones -- to prepare the Gators for exactly what to expect from UVa on defense if the game settles into the half-court. 

“Sometimes it can be difficult when a team is really disciplined with the ball and doesn't turn it over,” senior point guard Erving Walker said. “Hopefully, we're going to try to press and just keep pushing the pace and get the game going our way.”

The Cavs, however, have great success dictating tempo and can wear on a team that wants to run and score. That, in turn, can wear on players who are struggling with their shots, anyway. 


Take Boynton, for example. 


UF’s leading scorer at 16.3 points per game, Boynton has shot just 29 percent from the floor over the last five games. Four of those games have been losses. He’s made just four of 16 treys over the previous three games. 


Boynton, though, swears those numbers aren’t in his head and won’t get in there even with the Cavs in his face - which they will be. Virginia prides itself in team defense, challenging shots the way it plays help and recover. 


Donovan, in fact, challenged Boynton this week, asking if he can handle a game where it’s, say, 26-22 at halftime and he’s made just one of five shots. A low-scoring four-point game, after all, is pretty much like a high-scoring game.  


“We know it’s not going to be a high-scoring game,” Boyton said Wednesday before the team’s final practice in Gainesville. “The NCAAs are not about stats or how you’re day is going. These games are about winning, so whether you win by two points or 20 points, as long as we get the win, I’m good. We’ll all be good.” 


Boynton and Walker each have five NCAA games worth of experience under their belt. So they know. 


“You just have to go out, sell out and give it your all,” Boynton said. “It’s one game. You can’t come out and play one of those games where you’re mediocre in the first half and then just play better in the second half and think everything is going to be all right. Do that, your season’s over.” 



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