It really is all about defense for the Florida basketball team. And while that’s a given for most teams, the Gators have bought into it.
“This was about to our standard,” senior Patric Young said in the locker room after Florida’s 61-45 win over the 9th seeded Pitt Panthers. “We can’t always control whether the ball goes in the basket or not on offense but on defense, we can play hard and we did that.”
Following a lackluster first round win over Albany, head coach Billy Donovan challenged his team on Friday during practice to come to the court Saturday with a different mindset.
“Yeah, Coach was really getting on us,” Scotty Wilbekin noted after the game. “He was challenging us and just asking us if that was the team that we wanted to be in these last couple of games that we have.”
Wilbekin clearly responded to the challenge, scoring 21 points, 13 in the last six minutes of the game, leading the Gators to 10 steals and forcing 11 turnovers.
The Gators went on a 9-0 run in the second half to create a little breathing room and held Pitt without a basket for more than 5 minutes.
“I could see it in our guy’s eyes in the locker room before the game,” Sophomore Michael Frazier said about the change in focus for the top ranked Gators. “We were locked in and ready to go. Much different than Thursday.”
As big as Pitt is across the front line, Florida was able to control the paint, part of their focus going in.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” Will Yeguette said after the Florida win. “I think we did a good job boxing out and the guards got in there, got a lot of rebounds. So that helped us move those guys to get in there and rebound the ball and help us out.”
Donovan was determined to change how the Gators approached the game against Pitt after what he considered a sub par effort against Albany.
“We didn’t play to our identity there (Thursday) and I was disappointed by that because we really hadn’t done that all year long,” Billy explained. “I wanted to make sure they understood that and we got back to who we were. I don’t think any of them disagreed with anything I had to say.”
“Coach Donovan is the perfect coach in that sense,” Young explained when asked about the change in mindset. “He challenged us and he was right. Do we want to be that team we showed on Thursday? No. So we were able to get back to more of who we are today.”
Florida will play in Memphis next Thursday in the Sweet 16, most likely against UCLA. The Gators beat the Bruins enroute to both of their national titles and again in 2011 to advance to the Sweet 16. Florida will try to move into the Elite 8 for the fourth straight year. It’s where they’ve been eliminated in each of the past three seasons.