GAINESVILLE — When the Florida basketball team left New Orleans on Saturday afternoon after battling No. 1 Kentucky to the wire, the Gators felt strongly they had left behind a troubling final two weeks of the season in which they lost six of their last 10 games.
The NCAA selection committee apparently thought otherwise.
Florida (23-10), which had been projected as a No. 5 seed, fell to a No. 7 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament field, and will play No. 10 seed Virginia (22-9) Friday in Omaha, Neb. In their only postseason meeting, Florida lost to Virginia 62-56 in the 1992 NIT.
This will be the Gators' 12th NCAA Tournament appearance in 16 seasons under coach Billy Donovan.
"It's always an honor to be part of the NCAA Tournament, and we're excited about playing," Donovan said Sunday night. "We know we have a great challenge ahead of us in Virginia and look forward to competing on this stage."
The Gators are 0-1 all-time as a No. 7 seed, but Florida's players said they would be prepared no matter what.
"We believe we can play with anybody in the country," senior guard Erving Walker said. "We have confidence in this team and our guys."
Virginia averages 63.1 points, shooting an average of just five 3-pointers per game. Florida leads the nation in 3-point shots with 9.9 per game, and every starter averages in double figures. Virginia coach Tony Bennett said that is a major concern.
"They are not just only a 3-point shooting team, but they have an attack inside, and those guys that shoot them are very quick in the lane," Bennett said. "So it's going to test your defense, but we always talk about the long rebounds and the second-chance points. Shooting is a funny thing, if you can be in their space, your hope is that you can bother them. Of course our challenge is to stay back and kept them out of the lane and make contested shots where they've got to earn it."
If the Gators advance, it could set up a matchup with incoming SEC member and No. 2 Missouri in the next round. The game would feature two teams with a four-guard lineup and high-powered offenses.
"We're ready," UF junior guard Kenny Boynton said. "Whatever the committee decides for us, I know we'll be ready."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.