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Wednesday March 21, 2012Gators Bracing for Physical Marquette Squad with Elite Eight Berth on the Line (10:17 p.m. ET, TBS)

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

PHOENIX -- Try to follow how this all worked. 


During Florida’s practice Tuesday at Arizona State, the coaches came up with a drill like none other they’d rolled out this season. Four players from the Gators’ regular rotation would match up against a combination of four other players, plus two walk-ons parked stationary on the wings. 


After a few seconds of passing and setting screens in 4-on-4 action, a coach would throw up an intentional miss and the four players on offense attacked the glass -- plus the two wings -- and tried to out-wrestle the quartet of defenders for the rebound. 


“Wasn’t that drill like impossible?” UF sophomore center Patric Young asked when asked about it Wednesday. “I mean, c’mon! It’s 6-on-4.”


Coach Billy Donovan and his staff were trying to make a point. When the seventh-seeded Gators (25-10) clash with third-seeded and 11th-ranked Marquette (27-7) in Thursday night’s NCAA West Region semifinals at USAirways Center, it’s going to feel at times like six guys are on the court. 


And to further hammer home that point, Donovan ordered his scout team to hammer on the Florida regulars like at no other time all season. 


“We’ve had physical practices over the years, so we’re used to those,” junior guard Kenny Boynton said. “It’s not like we’re a soft team or anything like that ... .” 


He paused. Then nodded his head. 


“They beat us up, man,” Boynton said. “I got frustrated. I wanted to run a couple of them over.” 


That was the whole point. Stocky Lex Edwards, walk-on from Orlando, made like 6-foot-2, 215-pound Golden Eagles guard Darius Johnson-Odom and banged Boynton around. A bunch. Eric Storts, out of Tampa, reached, poked prodded and pushed. Jacob Kurtz, who’s actually seen some late-game playing time this season, made a nuisance of himself, also. 


“We want them to have an accurate look,” Edwards said. “So whether it’s slapping at the ball or slapping at their arms, fouling, pushing, whatever it took, we’re going to do what we had to do to get them ready.” 


And there was 6-10 Walter Pitchford, the scholarship center from Michigan, assigned to play the role of Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder. What he did, basically, was make everyone mad, even drawing the ire of 5-8 senior point guard Erving Walker with a few less-than-gentle nudges around the bucket.


Words were exchanged. Glances, too. 


“Get used to it!” Donovan screamed. “That’s what you’re getting for 40 minutes.” 


Think Florida likes chaos? Just wait ‘till the Gators get a load of the Golden Eagles. 


Marquette, coached by Buzz Williams, led the Big East in scoring at 75.9 points per game and ranked third in field-goal percentage at 45.7. The Eagles will collapse and harass and beat up on opponents to the point of utter aggravation -- and so much that officials can’t possibly call every foul committed. 


They’ll run and press, too. A lot. Hence their high amount of points, as well as assists (league-leading 16.7 per game) and steals (8.7 per game). 


“The game is going to be played at a very fast pace,” Donovan said. 


The Gators are fine with an up-tempo game. They love it. The question is how are they going to react when the game inevitably becomes overly physical? 


In Sunday’s 84-50 destruction of Norfolk State in the regional second-rounder at Omaha, Neb., things started to get a little chippy after the Spartans, down by 30, began taking a few swipes here and there in an effort to salvage some pride. 


Walker complained to the officials. Boynton got a technical for slapping a player in the head. Freshman guard Bradley Beal, usually even-keeled, had to be restrained by teammates after a bump under the basket. 


Donovan showed his players tape of those very instances this week and basically told them to expect more of the same against Marquette -- times 10.


“If you get hurt, you have to act like you aren’t,” sophomore center Patric Young said. “Have to fight through it.”


The Eagles already have tipped their hand regarding what they think of the Gators. Crowder told reporters in Milwaukee earlier this week that Florida “lacks a few things defensively.” He praised UF’s full-court pressure, but added, “if we handle that we’ll get a lot of what we want offensively.” 




“This is probably the most physical team we’re going to play,” Beal said.


Which was why another drill the coaches came up with had assistant Norm Roberts, charged with the scout for the game, tossing the ball to one of two players in a 2-on-1 situation in the paint, and had them attack the rim against that lone defender who was under orders to make the guy earn the basket. 


“Seek contact!” Donovan shouted. 


Might as well. 


Playing Marquette means contact will find you, anyway. 


“You’ve got to play through it and understand when it’s such a physical game and so many bodies are hitting each other and guys are smacking at the ball, the officials can’t call everything,” Roberts said. “This will not be a game of first and second effort, but one of third and fourth effort. That’s what they do. They keep going and going and win the effort plays.”


UF’s first-round game against Virginia was supposed to be a test of wills; Florida’s fast pace against UVa’s disciplined half-court sets. The Gators aced that one by 25 points. 


Marquette will be a test of wills, too. But more a test of who’s willing to be the tougher team; the one that won’t back down. 


“It will be a real physical game,” Walker said. “I don’t know if that’s much fun.” 


But playing through it beats getting beat any day.


Especially in March. 




No. 25 Florida vs. No. 11 Marquette       

Tip-off: Thursday at 10:17 p.m. EST (USAirways Center) 

Records: Florida 25-10; Marquette 27-7         

TV: TNT (w/Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller and Len Elmore) 

Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 220/XM 199

Game notes: Florida notes; Marquette notes 

Need to know: The Gators are in the Sweet 16 for the sixth time in school history and as a lower seed for just the third time. UF comes in as the No. 7 seed in the NCAA West Region, with Marquette, the runner-up to Syracuse in the Big East Conference, as the No. 3 seed. ... Florida defeated 10th-seeded Virginia 71-45 and 15th-seeded Norfolk State 85-50 to get here. ... UF coach Billy Donovan is 27-9 in NCAA play, including a 7-2 record in the Sweet 16. The only time Donovan’s teams have been eliminated in the Round of 16 came on this very floor in 1999 when Gonzaga, the No. 10-seed, upset the Gators 73-72 at what was then called America West Arena. ... The Golden Eagles beat 12-seed Brigham Young 88-68 and 6-seed Murray State 62-53 to advance. ... They are in the NCAA Tournament for the sixth straight year, but in the Sweet 16 for a second straight season for the first time since ’76-77. They won the national championship in ’77, beating North Carolina in the title game, while coached by Al McGuire. ... All five Florida starters are averaging in double-figures, led by junior G Kenny Boynton (16.1 ppg), who is coming off his first scoring output of at least 20 points in eight games. ... All-Southeastern Conference freshman G Bradley Beal (14.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and senior PG Erving Walker (12.1 ppg, 4.6 apg) round out a backcourt that helped make the Gators one of the nation’s highest-scoring (76.3 ppg) and best 3-point shooting teams (38.3 percent) in the country. Regarding the latter, 6-10 F Erik Murphy (10.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 43.1 percent from the arc) will be key in stretching Marquette’s defense, but UF will need Murphy to account for some more boards and help C Patric Young (10.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg) down low. ... Marquette led the Big East in scoring (75.9 percent), was third in shooting percentage (45.7) and second in free-throw percentage (72.2). Both senior 6-6 F Jae Crowder (17.6 ppg, 50.4 percent, 8.4 rpg, 2.5 spg) and 6-2 senior G Darius Johnson-Odom (18.5 ppg) were named first-team all-conference, with Crowder -- who Donovan called a “Will Yeguete with a really good offensive game” -- garnering Big East Player of the Year honors. ... Marquette started the season with 10 straight wins, including a big one at Wisconsin, with its lone out-of-conference defeat of the season coming Dec. 19 at LSU. As one UF staff member put it, “Unlike us, they didn’t have any bad losses.”



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