Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
OMAHA, Neb. -- Turnovers and bad shots proved something of a pain for the Florida Gators this week.
“Defensive stance! Again!” UF coach Billy Donovan shouted during practice on more than one occasion the last few days. “Put 35 seconds on the clock!”
And with that, his players opened their feet into a solid base, bent their knees, spread their arms and stood there like statues.
“Get used to it!” Donovan said. “That’s what you’re going to be doing for 35 seconds!”
There they remained. Twelve players. In formation. Several grimacing. For 35 ticks.
This wasn’t punishment, but rather a punctuation mark. For as much has been made about seventh-seeded Virginia (23-9) and that stifling defense that allowed the fewest points in the Atlantic Conference this season, the 25th-ranked and seventh-seeded Gators (23-10) worked just as much on the mental aspect of what they’ll face in trying to defend UVa’s patient and pounding half-court offense when they meet in the NCAA West Region first-round play Friday at 2:10 EST.
“Make a mistake, they make you pay,” freshman guard Bradley Beal said Thursday before the team’s shoot-around at CenturyLink Center. “It’s going to be another 35 seconds off the clock.”
Not every time, but enough of the time, and that’s exactly the point that Donovan and his staff tried to get across. UVa bunch is a very well-coached group that sticks to its game plan, but also seizes openings when they present themselves.
“One of the misconceptions with Virginia is they don’t want to run at all,” Donovan said. “They’re an opportunistic running team when they have the opportunity.”
UF knows something about defending in the open floor. In a perfect orange-and-blue world, the Gators will full-court press the Cavaliers the moment the bus pulls up to the arena Friday. Florida averaged 76.3 points during the 2011-12 season to Virginia’s 63.1. The contrast in styles of play is pronounced.
“Their offense gives [everybody] trouble,” UVa coach Tony Bennett said. “Billy does a great job spacing the floor.”
Conversely, the Cavaliers on offense do a poor job of it -- because they’re not even trying to space it.
Virginia packs in the halfcourt and, if need be, stays there a while. That’s what Florida’s coaches tried to prepare the Gators for.
Assistant coach Norm Roberts handled the scout and presentation to the team. Virginia, Roberts explained, is much more than 6-foot-8 forward Mike Scott, even though the All-ACC selection and future first-round NBA pick is responsible for nearly 30 percent (18.1 points per game) of the Cavaliers scoring (63.1 per game).
“Our two systems are going to clash,” Scott said. “It’s who is going to outlast each other.”
UVa has a tough-as-nails point guard in Jontel Evans and a sharp-shooting off-guard in Sammy Zeglinski, who UF’s coaches compare to Tennessee’s Skylar McBee (remember him, Gator fans?). Joe Harris is the only other Cav in double-figures (11.5) and can shoot the 3, while Akil Mitchell roams the paint and crashes the glass.
They are patient. They are relentless.
“And they’re disciplined,” center Patric Young said. “You can see that on tape.”
The Cavs, if they have to, will make the Gators guard them for the allotment of the shot clock, running an array of front screens, back screens and re-screens until they get what they want.
“You have to have a total awareness of the game and what’s going on,” Roberts said. “You can’t settle in and stare at the ball or stare at your man because a screen is coming, a cut is something -- something is coming -- and you better be ready for it.”
Better be in the right defensive position, too. For 35 seconds, if need be.
The Gators were this week. A bunch.
With knees bent.
“Honestly, I liked it more than running a sprint or a suicide,” Young said. “Really, it was about an understanding of how it’s going to be this game; of playing defense a full 35 seconds. We have to be ready to do that and not allow our will to be teetered.”
GATORS GAMEBOX - NCAA WEST REGION
No. 25 Florida vs. Virginia
Tip-off: Friday, 2:10 p.m. (CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Neb.)
Records: Florida 23-10; Virginia 22-9
TV: TNT (w/Marv Albert and Steve Kerr)
Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 220/XM 199
Need to know: The Gators are in the NCAA Tournament for the 15th time in school history and the 12th time in Coach Billy Donovan’s 16 seasons, including three straight. UF is 29-12 all-time in NCAA play, with four appearances in the Final Four, three in the national championship game and two NCAA titles. ... Donovan is 25-9 all-time in NCAA play. ... Virginia is playing in its 16th NCAA, with an all-time mark of 22-16, including a pair of Final Fours in the ‘80s. This is the Cavaliers’ first NCAA appearance since 2007. ... The date with Virginia, which finished tied for fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings at 9-7, is second all-time meeting against the Cavaliers. UF and UVa played in the semifinals of the 1992 National Invitation Tournament, a game won 62-56 by the Cavs at Madison Square Garden. ... This is Florida’s first basketball game played in Omaha, home of the College Baseball World Series. ... All five Gators starters average in double-figures, led by junior G Kenny Boynton (16.3 ppg), freshman G Bradley Beal (14.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and senior PG Erving Walker (12.1 ppg, 4.7 apg). ... Boynton has been struggling with his shot of late, having made 29 percent from the floor over the previous five games and just 25 percent (4-for-16) from the 3-point line the last three games. ... Last week, Beal became the first player in UF history to be named All-Freshman and first-team All-Southeastern Conference the same season. ... Junior F Erik Murphy (10.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg) is coming off a career-high 24 points against No. 1 Kentucky in the SEC Tournament semifinals last weekend at New Orleans. Both Murphy and sophomore C Patric Young (10.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg) will have their hands full defensively as the likely Gators assigned to guard Virginia All-ACC F Mike Scott (18.1 ppg, 56.2 percent, 8.4 rpg). ... UVa allowed a league-low 53.7 points per game this season and its 39.6-percent defense ranked third in the ACC behind only Florida State (ACC tournament champ) and North Carolina (regular season champ). ... F Joe Harris (11.5 ppg) and Jontel Evans (7.3 ppg) don’t have eye-opening numbers, but both are tough, capable scorers and excellent defenders. ... The Cavaliers won’t go much more than seven deep, which gives the Gators something of an edge if the game does begin to get up and down the floor. Virginia will do everything it can to prevent that from happening.