TAMPA — Back then, Billy was still a kid.
Back then, Chandler Parsons was still in high school and Patric Young was still in the ninth grade and the Gators were still a national power. Back then, Florida basketball was all about what Joakim said to Al and what Al said to Corey on their way to collect another trophy. Back then, winning these sort of games looked easy.
The drought has ended. The Florida Gators have won another basketball game that meant something.
This was the way basketball used to look at Florida, all quick and hungry and relentless. Long ago, so long ago, no one could outrun the Gators, and no one could outshoot them, and no one could match their ferocity. They came at opponents in waves, and they left them in the dust, and along the way, they made them look silly.
It looked a lot like Thursday night.
After three seasons of wrong endings, after 1,444 days of accomplishing something less, the Gators have finally won another NCAA Tournament game. They clobbered UC-Santa Barbara 79-51 and along the way they looked like a team that had rediscovered excellence, and like a team that was weary of hearing about how long it had been since it won a game such as this. They played like a team whose frustrations had been uncorked and whose expectations had been unleashed.
For the Gators, it was 34,680 hours since their last NCAA Tournament victory.
Now, they have roughly 48 hours until they try to do it again.
Perhaps that was the most impressive part of Florida's victory. The Gators looked like a team that can do it again. And maybe a couple more agains. Florida was superb against UCSB. It shot well. It defended well. It passed well. It ran well. After this game, no one should question why the Gators were seeded No. 2. Maybe someone should ask why they weren't seeded No. 1.
UCSB flew across the country for this? Not to be mean, but Florida left its opponent looking less like a team from Santa Barbara and more like a team from Hanna-Barbera. In a tournament where everyone seems to play close games, the Gauchos never had a chance.
For the rest of us, it seems like a long time since Florida won a tournament game, so long that you might think the game was televised in black-and-white and the goals were made of peach baskets. To Gators coach Billy Donovan, however, it doesn't feel like a long time.
"It doesn't seem that long ago to me, it really doesn't," Donovan said. "Four years ago is not that long. If it was 25, I'd say, boy, it seems like forever. But this year, not really.
"I know everyone talks about us not getting to the tournament for two years, but there are a lot of programs that lost what we lost, and they had losing records. Really good programs."
Perhaps, but for an elite program, for a championship program, four years feels like an eternity. When a program is good enough to win a title, most of the time it is good enough to get back to the tournament in a year or two. You have to go back to Michigan State, which won a title in 1979 then went seven seasons without a tournament victory, to find a champion that had a longer NCAA victory drought than Florida's.
Four years? That's a presidential term. For crying out loud, do you have any idea how many actors can go insane in four years? Do you have any idea how the perception of a program can change?
For the Gators, this might yet turn into a run that was worth the wait. This time of year, every win erases a bad year. Against UCSB, the Gators erased that 2008 NIT berth. Saturday, they have a chance to erase the 2009 version.
"Anybody who thinks they're overrated as a No. 2 seed, I think you're wrong," UCSB coach Bob Williams said. "We played Ohio State last year. This team, it was more dominant than Ohio State was last year when we played them.
"They're really good. They shoot it, they defend it, they're unselfish, they play together, they're extremely well coached."
Think about it. Doesn't that sound strangely familiar? Beaten coaches used to say those sort of things about the Gators all the time.
If they can keep playing like this, maybe others will say it, too.