Friday, February 23, 2018
Sports

Gators ready to move beyond NCAA's Elite Eight

MEMPHIS — Scottie Wilbekin can assure you he didn't lie awake after Thursday night's NCAA Tournament win over UCLA fretting about tonight's game.

Patric Young says there isn't a single Florida player — not even the four seniors — who is haunted by falling one game shy of the Final Four on three consecutive attempts.

Or worried it could happen again.

For the No. 1 seed Gators (35-2), who have prided themselves on living in the moment, the NCAA South Region final against No. 11 seed Dayton (26-10) is strictly about staying the course.

"At the beginning of the year it was our goal to make it here and the fact that we have this opportunity, we're not going to let the moment get bigger than us," Young said. "We're staying locked in and focused on what we need to do. We're just very blessed and fortunate to be a team that can put themselves in this opportunity to play for a Final Four again. We're going to prepare and do the best we can, especially as a senior class, because it's our last go round to make it to that next step."

And therein lies the complicated nature of this game. Young, Will Yeguete, Wilbekin, and Casey Prather have all advanced to the Elite Eight the past three seasons only to have their seasons end there. Three years ago it was a come-from-behind victory by Butler; two years ago Louisville did the same. And last season, Michigan essentially had the game won in the first seven minutes.

"Obviously, everybody knows about our past," Yeguete said. "I think we played a really good team the last two years, but we have a different team now."

Gators coach Billy Donovan said the perception his team is battling demons of the past in an effort to right the future is simply not true. Or fair.

"For me in looking at the past, you can draw maybe some kind of comparison or draw some kind of thing of what happened in the last three NCAA Tournaments, but the reality is … this is its own separate team," he said. "This team has not played in the Elite Eight last year. This is, in actuality, our first Elite Eight as a team. Now some of those guys were here last year, but also a lot of guys weren't in the roles they're in right now. …our team is clearly different than it was those years. So we've got to play this game with the mentality that this is really all that matters. This is what's in front of us right now."

Dayton closely mirrors the Gators with talented guards who can shoot 3-pointers, athleticism and depth. Donovan said he expects the Flyers to play 11 players, and they are 24-3 when three or more score in double figures.

"The more guys you have, the harder you can play, the better off you'll be," Dayton coach Archie Miller said.

While the Gators say the past has no bearing on this game, they acknowledge there have been lessons learned: stay in the moment, don't take anything for granted and finish the game. With that in mind, there will be no overlooking Dayton.

"They're not a team to take lightly, and I guarantee we won't take them lightly," Wilbekin said. "They're a good team. They've got a lot of good players and players that can score really well. And they do a great job playing team defense. They are team-oriented, which I really respect because that's the way that we try to come out and play every day. And so it's cool to see another team playing like that.

"It's not going to be easy, it's going to be tough. They're not going to lay down, we're not going to lay down, and it's going to be an exciting Elite Eight game."

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