Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
PHOENIX – There is a new member to Gator Nation – at least for the next year.
Prior to Florida’s Sweet 16 win over Marquette here on Thursday night, former Gator standout Udonis Haslem made a gentleman’s bet with Miami Heat teammate Dwyane Wade, a former Marquette star.
As a result of the Gators’ 68-58 win to advance to an Elite Eight showdown with Louisville on Saturday, Wade must display a University of Florida Gators license plate on one of his cars according to The Miami Herald.
“I’m going to fulfill it,” Wade told reporters. “Now, I didn’t say how much I was going to drive the car I put it on, but I’m going to fulfill it.”
To rub Florida’s win in a little, the Herald reported that Haslem downloaded the Gators’ fight song and played it on the Heat’s bus heading to Friday morning’s shootaround in Detroit.
Haslem was a member of the 2000 Florida team that made it to the Final Four, the first trip under Billy Donovan. The Gators will try for Final Four berth No. 4 under Donovan today against the Cardinals and Donovan’s college coach, Rick Pitino.
“I know Billy came up under Pitino, so that’s a big deal for Billy,” Haslem told the Herald. “I’m rooting for him to get over that hump.”
The Butler Did It
UF senior point guard Erving Walker said earlier this month the biggest highlight of his four seasons with the Gators was reaching the Elite Eight last year – and his biggest disappointment was losing there.
“We were so close,” Walker said Friday of the overtime defeat against Butler in the NCAA South Region. “It just left a bad feeling in our mouth and we just wanted to get back here and try to complete it this time.”
Donovan has used the last couple days to remind his players about the so-called “winning plays” – such as loose balls, offensive rebounds, diving on the floor for possessions – his team did not win in blowing a seven-point lead in the final minutes of regulation against Bulldogs.
But he also doesn’t want to emphasis the outcome of the game. That UF team had three seniors in the front court. And it was last year.
“It’s a different team, different opponent,” Donovan said. “It’s a different set of circumstances and we’re not getting last year back. That one’s over and done with.”
@RealDealBeal23 As Advertised
Bradley Beal, Florida’s superstar freshman, has been quite the attraction here in Phoenix, commanding a ton of press following his 21-point, 8-for-10 performance in the win over Marquette and drawing the largest crowd among UF players during Friday’s media breakout session.
Beal, averaging 17 points, 8.2 rebounds, shooting 53.8 percent overall and 43.3 from 3-point range in postseason play, was asked about the relationship he formed with Donovan during the recruiting process.
“The biggest thing I liked the most about him is that he didn’t always focus on basketball,” Beal said. “And he didn’t guarantee me anything when I came in. That’s what drew me into this school and this program; that he really didn’t guarantee me anything. I had to work for it all.”
Beal was peppered with questions about his looming NBA decision -- he’s projected as a lottery pick and is only enhancing his stock in this NCAA run -- but he towed the company line, repeatedly saying he was concentrating on playing with the Gators.
Game-changer In the Paint
Louisville’s 6-11 sophomore center Gorgui Dieng played all 40 minutes of Thursday night’s upset defeat of Michigan State, finishing with five points, nine rebounds, seven blocks and three steals. One of his two field goals was a 3-pointer.
Wonder why the Cards have been so great on defense this season? Start with the big man in the middle and fan out from there.
“Obviously, Dieng in the back [of the defense] is tremendous,” Donovan said. “Probably the only guy we’ve played against that’s been like that is [Kentucky’s] Anthony Davis, who is an incredible shot-blocker. You have a great anchor in the back of their defense."
Most likely, Florida will try to challenge Dieng early with touches inside for Patric Young, but the Gators will need to be wary of his help defense.
He wore short shorts
With so much focus on the matchup between Donovan and his mentor, Louisville coach Rick Pitino, the players were asked about what they know of Donovan the player.
Donovan led Pitino’s Providence team in 1987 to the Final Four as a high-scoring guard.
“Those were some small shorts,’’ Boynton said. “But he was a very impressive player.”
Added Walker: “He’s a great player. He let’s us know about it all the time.”
--Win or lose Saturday against Louisville, the Gators are scheduled to depart Phoenix for Gainesville after the game with an expected arrival time back home of 1 a.m.
--Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, a longtime Gator supporter, attended Thursday night’s win over Marquette and sat with Florida’s administrative staff. Pierzynski hit an inside-the-park home run and had two doubles in the Chicago White Sox's 6-3 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday night.
--The Gators are 18-2 in the NCAA Tournament since 2006 and 32-12 all-time.
--Florida is 17-9 against Big East teams under Donovan, including a win over Marquette on Thursday to reach the Elite Eight.
--Louisville coach Rick Pitino, attempting to reach the Final Four for the sixth time, is the first coach to lead three schools (Providence, Kentucky, Louisville) to the Final Four.
GatorZone.com Senior Writer Scott Carter contributed to this report.