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Florida seniors Will Yeguete (left) and Patric Young react to earning Final Four berth. (Photo: Tim Casey)

Tuesday April 1, 2014Notebook: Gators Have Ollie's Respect, Familiar Four, Mentor Young, More Tidbits

Florida seniors Will Yeguete (left) and Patric Young react to earning Final Four berth. (Photo: Tim Casey)

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – On Dec. 2 at Gampel Pavilion UConn did something no team has done since: beat Florida.

The host Huskies knocked off the Gators 65-64 when Shabazz Napier hit a game-winning shot at the buzzer.

Florida has won a school-record 30 consecutive games since that loss and will try to make it 31 in a row in the national semifinals on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. 

Huskies coach Kevin Ollie, a former UConn standout who lost to the Gators as a player in the 1994 Sweet 16, said the victory four months ago over Billy Donovan’s Gators was not an easy one.

"The respect I have for Coach Donovan is out of this roof, the way he's built that program, took it over, took it to another level,'' Ollie said. "They just play so hard. They don't give an inch on the defensive end and offensive end.

“They play fast‑break ball, but then they play fast‑break at halfcourt, too. What I mean by that, playing fast‑break in the fullcourt and halfcourt, every cut they make is hard. Every screen they set is hard. Just teaching our guys that you can't take a play off, you can't relax. For us to beat a team like that -- we couldn't relax not one minute.”

Saturday’s Final Four matchup will be the second NCAA Tournament meeting between the schools. During Florida’s first trip to the Final Four 20 years ago, the Gators defeated UConn 69-60 to advance to the Elite Eight.

Ollie played 39 minutes for the Huskies, scoring six points and dishing eight assists. Florida’s guard tandem of Craig Brown and Dan Cross combined for 34 points and Brown’s 3-pointer with 1:09 left in overtime served as the dagger.

At the time of the first Florida-UConn in the NCAA Tournament in 1994, Donovan was in his final season of a five-year stint on Rick Pitino’s Kentucky staff. He was hired as head coach at Marshall after the season and two years later took over the Gators in 1996.

Like Ollie’s recollection of their meeting earlier this season, Donovan has respect for the Huskies and the way they play.

“It was a great game. It was a great environment,’’ he said. “It was a game that really helped our team going forward. The game really went back and forth in a lot of ways. It helps you understand how hard you have to fight, battle persevere.

“Any time you play in a game like that, you get a chance to learn and grow.”

FAMILIARITY FACTOR

This year’s Final Four could be called the Familiar Four. The Gators lost to UConn and Wisconsin, and beat Kentucky – three times.

Donovan was asked if having played the three other teams is an advantage, disadvantage, or factor at all.

“I think for us, whoever we’re going to play, the other team’s got the same thing,’’ he said. “I do think that is a good thing as it relates to preparation. We can take some things from previous games we need to do better.

“Every team right now, since we’ve played them, has evolved in some ways. Hopefully we’ve evolved as well.”

Florida has certainly evolved since losing at Wisconsin in November. The Gators used only six players who are in the regular rotation now, and were without Scottie Wilbekin, Dorian Finney-Smith and Chris Walker.

YOUNG WITH AN ASSIST

Walker has had an up-and-down ride during his freshman season.

The 6-foot-10 Walker scored seven points and grabbed three rebounds in Florida’s win over UCLA in the Sweet 16. However, he was hardly a factor in Saturday’s win over Dayton, playing only two minutes.

Walker and Donovan

That’s the life of a young player with enormous potential but very raw skills. Florida senior Patric Young was once that kind of player and Donovan credited Young in helping Walker improve.

“The one thing that happened for Chris Walker, which was hard, when he came in in December, he had not idea about anything,’’ Donovan said. “He didn’t know how we stretched, how we lifted weights. He did not know any drill in practice. He was a 6-10 live-wire athlete.”

Young has had his growing pains under Donovan’s direction the past four years. Donovan said Young recognized some of Walker’s struggles and took on a mentor role.

“Patric has spent a lot of time helping him,’’ Donovan said. “That’s just the way Patric is as a kid. It probably has less to do with Chris Walker and much, much more to do with Patric. I think he’s grown fond of Patric because of the time investment he’s made in him.”

HOOPS HEAVEN

The UConn women advanced to the Final Four on Monday night with a 69-54 win over Texas A&M. It marks the fourth time in school history that UConn's men and women have advanced to the Final Four (2004, 2009 and 2011).

They each won the championship in 2004, the only time the Huskies swept the national titles.

"The school right now is just going crazy," Moriah Jefferson told The Hartford Courant after scoring 11 points Monday. "Our fans are behind us. We both want to go out and win it all."

UConn women's coach Gino Auriemma has won eight national titles and former men's coach Jim Calhoun, Ollie's coach when he played at UConn, is one of only five men's coaches to win three national titles.

LINEUP OF OFFICIALS

The NCAA announced the 10 officials working the Final Four on Monday.

Pat Adams, Joe DeRosa, Verne Harris, John Higgins, Michael Roberts, Doug Shows, Doug Sirmons, Michael Stephens, Mike Stuart and Terry Wymer made the cut.

QUOTE OF NOTE

"I can learn from both of those coaches. I use both of them. It’s just a great relationship I have with Geno, but it’s a very special relationship I have with Coach." -- Ollie on relying on Hall of Famers Auriemma and Calhoun for advice.

BONUS SHOTS

The Gators’ 30-game win streak is the longest single-season win streak in SEC history, surpassing Kentucky’s 27-game streak during the 1995-96 season. LSU’s 26-game win streak during the 1980-81 season ranks third … Advancing to the Final Four pays well for the coaches involved. Kentucky coach John Calipari receives a $175,000 Final Four bonus, followed by Donovan ($100,000), Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan ($50,000) and Ollie ($33,333) according to Forbes … The Gators are the first team to win four consecutive NCAA Tournament games by double digits since the 2012 Kentucky team that won the national title; UF is only the third team to win four games en route to Final Four by double digits while holding each opponent to less than 70 points, joining Michigan State (2000) and Duke (1999) via ESPN research.

 

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