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Monday March 10, 2014Next Journey Set to Begin for Record-Setting Gators

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The decompression period will not last long, but when the Florida Gators return to work Tuesday, Gators coach Billy Donovan hopes a 48-hour respite away from the court will have served the nation's top-ranked team well.

UF had all of Sunday and most of Monday to wallow in the aftermath of its 84-65 pummeling of Kentucky, a win that capped the first 18-0 regular season in Southeastern Conference history and doubled as an O’Connell Center curtain call for seniors Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete and Patric Young.

It was emotional. It was exhilarating. It was historic.

And now it’s done.

That phase of so-called process, that is.

“It’s over with,” Donovan said Monday. “It’s the next step of our season now and everybody starts over at 0-0.”

The relevance of a record-setting season for the Gators (29-2), winners of 23 straight, will be determined by their success in the two upcoming single-elimination settings, starting this week with the SEC Tournament in Atlanta at the Georgia Dome, followed by the NCAA Tournament the following week.

UF, which won the league title by a whopping six games over second-place Kentucky and Georgia, will be the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament and has a bye into Friday’s quarterfinals, where the Gators will face the winner of a Thursday second-round game between Missouri (21-10) and Texas A&M (17-14). That game will start at 1 p.m.

On Tuesday, the conference will announce its postseason awards and the Gators figure to need a U-Haul to clear away the hardware, with Wilbekin the frontrunner to be crowned SEC Player of the Year and Donovan the runaway favorite for Coach of the Year, among others. 

But as Donovan is sure to point out -- again -- those recognitions, just like the team’s current record, are merely snapshots of achievements that already have happened.

Nothing and no one stays the same.

For example, just 11 days ago there was cause for concern with this team relative to scoring, defense and 3-point shooting (both the Gators’ and their opponents’) after Florida won consecutive games by five, four and three points, respectively. Three wins by a combined 63 points to end the season eased some of those concerns.

Before those three wins, however:

* UF averaged just 68.2 points over the previous 12 games, at one point going nine straight games without hitting the 70-point mark. The Gators averaged 78.3 points the last three games and shot a collective 52.5 percent.

* Defensively, those last three opponents (LSU, South Carolina, Kentucky) shot just 38.5 percent combined and 31.9 from the 3-point line. The previous seven games, opponents had hit nearly 42 percent from long distance against UF.

* Through 15 SEC games, Florida had just once hit 40 percent of its 3-point attempts (against Georgia in the third league game) and three times had been below 30 percent. The Gators shot 56.5 against LSU, turned Michael Frazier II loose for a team-record 11 treys at USC and went 9-for-15 (60 percent) against Kentucky.

The case can be made -- rather easily, in fact -- that Florida is playing its best basketball of the season, but don’t think for a second that’s the spin Donovan is going with inside the practice complex.

More than likely, the first film sessions the Gators will see when they report back to work will focus exclusively on Kentucky’s 15-0 run in the second half and gloss very little over UF’s spectacular first half or the 21-8 blitz to close out the Wildcats over the final 10 minutes.

And they won't know until late Thursday afternoon who the next opponent will be.

So it's back to locking in themselves.

“We only have one game, that’s all we’re assured of,” Donovan said. “That journey of playing an 18-game league schedule is behind us now."

The next journey awaits.


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