Wednesday March 20, 2013Gators Arrive in Austin, Ready for Task at Hand
AUSTIN, Texas -- Jeremy Foley settled into his seat Wednesday on the flight from Gainesville. The Florida athletic director had that March Madness gleam in his eye, but also a dose of perspective a grizzled NCAA Tournament veteran needs to have.
“You start in October and this is where you try to get,” Foley said. “We get to do a lot of things in this job that are special, but to be a part of the NCAA Tournament, well, it’s just a blast.”
When he took office in 1992, Foley believed UF needed to get to a point where the Gators no longer hoped to be called on Selection Sunday, but dealt with season-long site and seeding anticipation.
Well, the Gators have been in that place for sometime, thanks to Coach Billy Donovan, the Pied Piper responsible for the American Airlines charter of 116 players, coaches, support staff, cheerleaders and band members that touched down at Bergstrom International Airport at 5:05 p.m. local time and boarded three buses for the team hotel in downtown Austin.
Florida (26-7) is the No. 3 seed in the South Region and will take on 14th-seeded Northwestern State (23-8) Friday night in second-round pod play at the Erwin Center.
Under Donovan, now in his 17th season, UF will be making its 13th appearance over the last 15 years. Along the way, the Gators have experienced every emotion imaginable -- highest high, lowest low -- that comes with this time of year.
Come what may, Florida is here again.
“There’s nothing like the feeling of making it through that first weekend. But there’s also those days when you’re on a plane home that first day and your heart is broken,” Foley said. “Now, the flip side? You experience none of it because you’re not in it. Instead, you’re at home wishing you were part of it. So that’s part of the deal.”
Everyone in college basketball would sign up for the chance to experience gut-busted feeling for a shot at the other side of the spectrum.
The last two seasons, the Gators have stormed to regional-final exuberance, only to suffer excruciating defeats; to Butler in overtime in 2011 and Louisville by three points in 2012. In both games, UF had fat leads in the final 10 minutes and could not hold off the inevitable rallies.
“Tough loss,” senior forward Erik Murphy said of the Louisville defeat. “You try not to look back on it, but it happened.”
“Two chances to go to the Final Four,” lamented junior center Patric Young. “We came up short.”
The aftermath of both was devastating, but they had to get there to experience it.
And now they’re back again.
In the next couple days, much of the pre-game hype will focus on a run of similar late-game losses Florida suffered during the regular season, most recently against Ole Miss in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game and a week earlier in the regular-season finale at Kentucky.
That was part of the deal, too.
In the big picture, neither mean anything now.
“There’s a tendency for some people -- whether media or fans -- to always see the glass half-empty. Like in football last year. We were 11-1 and winning ugly,” Foley said. “I look at what these guys accomplished, with 26 wins and an SEC championship. We lost some tough games, but also beat some pretty good teams that will be playing this week.”
“I look at the totality of the season. It’s been a heckuva year, we’re back in the tournament again ... and now we’re going to try and get greedy.”