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The Gators board a Southwest Airlines charter headed to Dallas on Wednesday afternoon.

Wednesday April 2, 2014Goodbye Gainesville, Hello Dallas: Gators Arrive at Final Four

The Gators board a Southwest Airlines charter headed to Dallas on Wednesday afternoon.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

DALLAS -- The moment was not lost on Will Yeguete.

“I thought about it when we were stretching,” the senior forward said.

The realization probably struck each member of the Florida basketball team at some point either before, during or after Wednesday’s practice in Gainesville -- the last time during this remarkable 2013-14 season the Gators worked out in their home confines.

“I’m just really focused on going out with a bang,” senior center Patric Young said. “That’s more what’s on my mind.”

Of course it was.

An hour later, Young and his teammates were on a bus to the Gainesville Regional Airport, where they fist-bumped a knockoff Albert the Alligator on the tarmac and climbed onto their chartered flight to Dallas, site of the 2014 Final Four.

Gators at hotel UF landed at Love Field around 6:15 p.m. local time and bused to the team’s headquarters for the week: Hotel Anatole in downtown Big D (pictured right, photo by Tim Casey). The team was met there by the Dallas Townview High School drum line and Dallas-Fort Worth Gator Club, complete with the team’s fight song on a loop.

The No. 1-ranked Gators (36-2), winners of 30 in a row, play Connecticut (30-8) in Saturday’s national semifinals at 6:09 p.m. (ET) at AT&T Stadium, with Wisconsin (30-7) and Kentucky (28-10) facing off in the other semifinal. The winners meet Monday night for the national championship.

After checking into their hotel, the Gators had their team meal then split up for about 90 minutes -- players with free time, coaches to meetings -- and reconvened at 9:30 for film. That’s how things are usually handled on the road and Coach Billy Donovan would like to keep this trip as routine as possible, even though there’s nothing about it that’s remotely routine, starting with a giant jet filled with pep band, cheerleaders and athletic department officials.

DFW Gator Club Once settled in, the Gators hope to keep things contained within the team and the focus as UConn-centric as possible, especially given the glut of hype, media and other distractions heading their way starting Thursday.

A solid practice earlier in the day was a great jumping off point.

“It was very good,” Donovan said.

For the winningest senior class in Florida history -- 120 victories and looking for more -- the workout marked the 400th-and-some practice at the UF complex for Young, Yeguete, Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather.

And their last together.

“It’s not sad, it’s fun,” Yeguete said. “It’s a much different feeling than the last couple years when we went off [to the regional] and didn’t know what was next. This year, we know this is our last practice here, and that’s OK ... because we have some really big practices out there.”

UF will practice or shoot at least three times inside vast AT&T before the UConn game, with additional workouts at both UT-Arlington and the Dallas Mavericks facility on the docket.

As he left the practice court for the final time, Young wasn’t interested in getting deep and sentimental, but he did take a look around a gym that basically has been his second home since July of 2010.

“Hopefully, we can leave a great legacy and hang up another banner in here,” Young said. “If I can do that, everything that led up to it -- all the practices and everything that happened the last three years -- will be worth it. Definitely worth it.”

 

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