The Florida basketball players readily admit that the last time they were in the NCAA Tournament a year ago, they were ill-prepared to deal with the madness of March.
So the Gators' primary goal heading into Thursday night's second round NCAA Tournament game against UC Santa Barbara was to get past the "just glad to be here" syndrome and do whatever necessary to come out with a win.
The team with five players who have never participated in an NCAA Tournament game, and seven others who have played in just one tourney game, came ready.
The Gators opened with a 10-1 lead less than four minutes into the game, and never trailed again, finishing with a 79-51 victory over UCSB at the St. Pete Times Forum. It was the worst NCAA loss in school history for the Gauchos (18-14).
On Saturday, Florida (27-7) will play UCLA, which led throughout in defeating Michigan State, in the third round at the Times Forum.
"I thought they came in very, very focused and they learned some valuable lessons from the Kentucky game (a Sunday loss in the SEC tournament) of what they needed to do better," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I thought their focus coming in and their preparation for the two or three days that we had leading into the game were very, very good. And you know what, I had enough respect for these guys (UCSB) that I thought the game was going to be very, very close."
Florida shot 58 percent in the first half, taking a 43-19 lead at halftime. It was the third time this season the Gators have held an opponent under 20 points in a half. The Gators were most proud of their defense. Florida held the Gauchos to 27.3 percent from the field in the first half, 36.2 percent in the game.
UCSB was hampered by miscues; 10 of its 17 turnovers in the game led to 13 first-half points for the Gators.
Gators senior forward Chandler Parsons had 10 points, seven rebounds and a career-high 10 assists — one of four Gators in double figures. Junior guard Erving Walker had a team-high 18 points and UCSB guard Orlando Johnson had a game-high 21.
"It was definitely important to get off to a good start and my guards found me and I was fortunate enough to knock down some shots early," Parsons said.
The Gators outscored UCSB 20-10 in the opening 10 minutes of the second half to extend their commanding lead.
"We got rattled pretty early in this game in terms of what type of looks we were getting and getting the ball where we wanted," UCSB coach Bob Williams said.
As Florida moves on, Donovan said he's confident his team understands it gets tougher from here on out.
"I think these guys understand what's at stake, and I think they realize that, okay, what happened today, the margin of victory, that's not going to be the case next game," Donovan said. "And it was a great opportunity for us to kind of get some experience because I think your first game in this tournament is always difficult; it's just hard."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.