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Thursday March 21, 2013Gators Ready for Frantic Pace vs. Northwestern State in NCAA Tourney Opener

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

AUSTIN, Texas -- The NCAA Tournament bids went out Sunday night, but the Florida Gators didn’t get their first look at Northwestern State for another two days. 


One thing stood out. 


“I couldn’t believe how many guys they play and how even all their minutes are,” UF junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said. “And they’re all a threat to score, too.” 


Given the waves of Northwestern State players who will be coming and coming and coming at them Friday night in the NCAA South Region at Erwin Center, the Gators may see Demons in their sleep the next couple days. That would be just fine with UF’s players, as long as they’re still sleeping in beds at their hotel in Downtown Austin on Saturday and Sunday. 


It’s that time of year. 


“We’re ready to make a run in this tournament,” senior guard Kenny Boynton said. 


If there’s a run in the third-seeded Gators (26-7) it needs to start with the 14th-seeded Demons (23-8), champions of the Southland Conference Tournament and the highest-scoring team in the country at 81.5 points per game. NSU, winner of 20 of its last 25, runs 10 players at its opponent and basically stays in 1-2-2 full-court pressure the entire game. 


“They’re not going to give up on their press,” Gators junior center Patric Young said. “They’re going to come at us 110 percent the whole game.” 


NSU coach Mike McConathy swears by this style and once had a former coach tell him McConathy could never play for himself. The Demons’ brand of all-out, in-your-face basketball began with his first teams of at Bossier Parish (La.) Community College when he thought it best to play a bunch of guys just to keep them happy. 


Now, as McConathy put it, “It’s just who we are. ... You get it from a lot of different areas, a lot of different times and maybe sometimes not for very many minutes. But they’re very efficient when they’re in there.” 


The Demons average 75.2 possessions per game, which rates tops in the nation. They also average 10 steals per game. 


“That’s 10 more possessions to score,” said UF assistant coach Rashon Burno, charged with the scout for the game. “A lot can happen in 10 extra possessions.” 


And quickly. 


Think Arkansas tempo with Savannah State talent. If that doesn't phase, consider the Arkansas handed the Gators their worst defeat of the season and Savannah State was athletic and disciplined enough in its system to hold UF to 58 points back in November.  


“They’re not going to give up on their press,” Gators junior center Patric Young said. “They’re going to come at us 110 percent the whole game.” 


McConathy wants chaos on the court, but that’s fine with UF coach Billy Donovan. He likes chaos too. And not controlled chaos, either, unless the Gators are the ones in control. 


The way the Demons play won’t alter UF’s substitution patterns. Donovan will sub based on fatigue, fouls and situation. That’s not changing. 


His focus on this opponent -- the first of his the 13th NCAA Tournament in 17 seasons -- was about execution of what the Gators need to do best.  


On Thursday, Donovan put his team through a ferocious practice on the University of Texas women’s practice court. The Gators weren’t particularly crisp at the outset and Donovan wasn’t happy about it. 


“PRESTON!” Donovan screamed. 


That was a plea to strength and conditioning coach Preston Greene, who was told to take each player who committed a turnover to the side court and run them through a suicide.


When Will Yeguete threw the ball away, he ran. So did DeVon Walker when he lost the ball coming up the floor. An opening practice segment of just four assists against 12 turnovers was unacceptable, but it also made Donovan’s point. 


“This is how it’s going to be!” he yelled. 


Pretty soon, a student manager was on the floor to further bolster the front-court press -- as a sixth defender, just for kicks. Donovan wanted hard, aggressive and decisive decisions. 


“We have to limit our live-ball turnovers,” Burno said. 


The Gators also need to get on their horses in transition defense against the Demons, who will get rebounds and go. 


“They’re a high-octane team, offensively,” senior forward Erik Murphy said. 


The last Northwestern State team to make an NCAA field was the 2006 squad that also came in as a 14 seed and promptly shocked 3-seed Iowa with a ridiculous falling-out-bounds buzzer beater. 


Donovan and his players have been asked about that upset -- “This game has nothing to do with that one,” he said -- but it’s never come up inside their walls. 


“All I know is they won their conference this year,” Young said. “So they have every bit the right to be here as we do.” 


Every bit the right to advance, also. 


“All we’re guaranteed is one game,” reserve junior forward Will Yeguete said. “We have to make sure we make this one count if we want to play a second one.” 



3rd-seeded Florida vs. 14th-seeded Northwestern State  

Tip-off: Friday, 7:27 p.m. ET (Erwin Center, Austin, Texas.)  

Records: Florida 26-7; Northwestern State 23-8

TV: truTV (Tim Brando, Mike Gminski and Otis Livingston) 

Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 134/XM 199

Game notes: Florida notes

Need to know: The Gators, winners of the Southeastern Conference regular-season title, will make their 18th NCAA Tournament appearance -- the 13th under Coach Billy Donovan -- on the campus of the University of Texas. ... Under Donovan, UF is 28-10 in NCAA play, including three Final Four appearances and two national championships. ... Florida reached the regional final in each of the last two seasons, losing to Butler in 2011 and Louisville in 2012. ... Northwestern State earned its tournament bid by defeating Stephen F. Austin 68-66 in the Southland Conference Tournament final. ... The Gators are 4-0 all-time vs. the Southland, but have never faced NSU. ... The game marks the second time UF has faced the Southland champion in their tournament opener. The Gators defeated Sam Houston State 85-55 in 2003 at Tampa. ... All five of Florida’s starting unit average within 3.6 points of each other, led by 6-10 senior forward Erik Murphy (12.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 45.6 percent 3-point range) and senor guard Kenny Boynton (12.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg), who needs five points to join Ronnie Williams (1981-84) as the only players in UF history to score 2,000 points in a career. ... Senior guard Mike Rosario (12.3 ppg) is coming off the best all-around game of his UF career, an 18-point, 9-rebound effort in the SEC title game loss to Ole Miss. ... Though Florida was second in the SEC in scoring at 71.6 points per game, the Gators have averaged just 64.4 points over the previous nine games -- and are 5-4 during that run. ... The Demons, who are making just the third NCAA appearance in school history, lead the national in scoring 81.5 points per game and boast 10 players who log at least 15 minutes per game. ... Northwestern State is coached by Mike McConathy, who is 223-212 in 14 seasons, including an upset of 3rd-seeded Iowa in opening-round play of the 2006 tournament. ... F DeQuan Hicks (14.1 ppg) leads the Demons in scoring, but the team has three other players who average at least 12 points per game, including G Shamir Davis (12.5) and F James Hulbin. ... Northwestern State and UF had three common opponents in 2012-13, with the Demons losing to SEC foes LSU, Texas A&M and Arkansas. 




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