ORLANDO– The Gators got a wakeup call Thursday when the Albany Great Danes gave them all they could handle for 30 minutes of UF’s second round NCAA tournament victory. The America East champions used their seed to their advantage, taking risks because they could, especially on defense. They made a concerted effort to take Florida’s two best shooters out of the game and refused to rotate help defenders off of guards Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II (the backcourt duo combined to go 2-8 from three point range).
Despite a slow start, the Gators were effective at scoring in the paint and held the Great Danes to 32% shooting in the second half. Wilbekin spoke about what the team can do to make sure the slow starts won’t be happening again.
“Just make sure we’re ready to go,” he said. “Put this last game behind us, and start worrying about Pitt and just how we need to play against them. We just have to be ready to play. That’s the only way we can avoid something like that. I think we’ll be ready, though.”
Besides feeling the sensation of being too close for comfort in an NCAA opener, they also saw it– at least three of them did. Wilbekin, Frazier and Patric Young were even late to their Friday press conference because they were watching the end of Duke’s loss to Mercer.
“Well, I think in this tournament you have to be aware that every team is fighting for their life,” Young said. “And the goal is just to survive. Seeding doesn’t matter when it comes down to between the lines As you see, a 14 can beat a three. Fortunately a 16 has never beat a one and we were able to keep that going.”
On Saturday, they play an eight seed, the Pittsburgh Panthers out of the ACC. The Panthers have a record of 26-9 and destroyed their second round opponent, the Colorado Buffalos, 77-48.
They play swarming, active defense and an offense that is predicated on ball screens much like UF’s. Their crisp passing and tendency to not turn the ball over is the focus for Florida –only three turnovers against Colorado.
“Well, they’re a really good offensive team as far as passing the ball,” Young said. “Getting in the lane, playing off of two feet, so we’re just going to have to stay solid on the defensive end and not try and gamble for any steals and things like that, just try and wear them down and just stay in the moment each and every possession and try not to get out of ourselves defensively and just stay to the grind the whole game.”
This is the fourth straight season the Gators have played in the NCAA round of 32…UF has won at least one postseason game in nine of the past 10 seasons…The Gators are 2-4 all time against Pittsburgh…This is the first time the Gators will play the Panther under head coach Billy Donovan…Billy Donovan’s 448 wins have him tied for second place with LSU’s Dale Brown on the all-time SEC victory list…Guard Scottie Wilbekin is eight points away from scoring 900 in his career…The four seniors on this team are the first players in Florida’s history to win at least one NCAA tournament game in each of their four seasons…The Pittsburgh Panthers are in their second straight NCAA tournament…This is the 12th appearance in the last 13 seasons for the Panthers, the Panthers are only one of seven programs nationwide to achieve that feat…This is 25th overall NCAA tournament for Pitt…The Panthers rank fifth in the nation and second in the ACC in overall winning percentage –.766…Pitt has two fifth year seniors…The Panthers are one of two ACC schools to surpass the 20-win and 10-win league regular season totals in 12 of the past 13 seasons…Guard James Robinson ranks third nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio.
On forcing Pitt into turnovers
Florida center Patric Young:
Yeah, they have one of the best assist‑to‑turnover ratios in the country. We’re just going to have to do a good job of deflecting balls and disrupting their flow, style of play, same type of deal we’ve always been trying to do, just to be disruptive and junkyard dogs out there on the defensive side.”
On growing into a defensive roll
Florida guard Michael Frazier II:
I think it’s just a result of me staying in the moment every day in practice and just understanding what I had to get better when I came in and watching a lot of film, listening to the coaches and my teammates, older guys, just helping me and continuing to learn and grow every day. And I think I’ve come a long way, but I still have a long way to go.”
On teammate Patric Young
Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin:
He’s a great guy, fun to be around. As far as his development, I think he’s done a better job each year at getting better at his low‑post scoring, and he’s always been a good defender, but he just‑‑ this year I think he’s really done a good job of maybe improving his stamina so he can stay in the game for longer and play that top level of defense for longer periods of time and just his hustle plays this year have been more than any other year, so that’s about it.”
On his relationship with Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon
Florida head coach Billy Donovan:
We’ve never coached against each other, our teams have never played against each other. I’ve known Jamie for a long time. We have a clinic every summer on our campus. Jamie has been there several times to speak. It’s been great having him there and being a part of it.”
On matching up with Patric Young
Pittsburgh center Talib Zanna:
I mean, I’m just going to go out there and just play my game. I’m not looking up to playing against. I know he’s a physical guy, he plays dirty, so that’s how we play, so it’s going to be a good battle down there. And it’s going to be fun.”
On if the Panthers are playing their best basketball now
Pittsburgh forward Lamar Patterson:
We’re playing good basketball right now. We’ll know if we’re playing our best basketball on Saturday. The season we started out strong, like you said, and every team has ups and downs. That’s just how college basketball is.”
On embracing an underdog mentality
Pittsburgh guard Cameron Wright:
Well, yeah, that’s obvious. We’ve been the underdog pretty much the entire year. We don’t look too much into that. We don’t feed into being an underdog, but we’re definitely excited to play against the No.1 team in the country.”
On defensive keys
Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon:
I think our freshmen had to get better defensively as every coach goes through, so Josh Newkirk getting better allowed us to play him more minutes, and in recent games we’ve been allowed to play Lamar, Cameron and James less minutes, and I think that’s helped our defense.”