Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Sports

Florida looks to get over hump in NCAA Elite Eight

ARLINGTON, Texas — For the most part, Florida's players can still tell you exactly what it felt like to have their season end in the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight the past two years.

The Gators lost both by a combined seven points. It is both a distant memory and as fresh as if it happened a few weeks ago.

"It was awful," junior guard Scottie Wilbekin said. "I'd say it took a few days, a week. You don't really get over it until you start working out with the team (for the next season). It's always in the back of your mind, just thinking of what you could have done. … But thinking about it isn't going to help us in any way. We have to try to be focused on this game and what we need to do in this game to be successful."

The Gators face Michigan today at Cowboys Stadium in their third consecutive Elite Eight appearance. They believe this game is more about finally getting over the hump than it is about correcting past wrongs.

"I think we remember what happened the past two years, but this is a different team," senior guard Kenny Boynton said. "What we learned (from previous losses) is we need to play our full 40 minutes. I think if we go out and play as a team, offensively and defensively for a full 40 minutes, we'll be good."

UF will have to be good in its South Region final against a Michigan team that is not only talented but riding high after its comeback win in overtime against No. 1 seed Kansas on Friday night.

"This is a great challenge, maybe the best offensive team in the country," Florida coach Billy Donovan said.

Both teams face the daunting task of getting ready for each other with about 36 hours' worth of preparation.

"We've got to rely on a lot of the instincts and a lot of things we've done earlier in the year," Michigan coach John Beilein said.

The No. 4 seed Wolverines enter sixth in the nation in field-goal percentage (48.6 percent); the No. 3 Gators have the nation's third-best scoring defense (53.7).

"I think it's going to be a great matchup between both teams," Michigan freshman guard Glenn Robinson III said. "We have two great coaching staffs, and we both run great offenses. At the end of the day, it's all going to come down to defense, in my opinion. We've got to lock into defense and at the same time continue to do what we've been doing offensive-wise."

Donovan reiterated after the Gators' win Friday over No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast that it's extremely difficult to win one game in the tournament, let alone advance to the Elite Eight. But UF is clearly not satisfied with just getting there this time.

"It feels pretty good (to be so close), but there is fear of a repeat of last year," junior center Patric Young said. "There is also hope that with the experience we have as a team, we are going to come out, we are going to fight against that to give it all we have for 40 minutes and not experience last year again."

Added Boynton: "I would not say it's fear at all. When we lost the Elite Eight game (last year), we had a meeting and everyone in the meeting said, 'What would you give to have this moment back?' Everyone said what they would give. Now we are back at this moment."

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]

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