The Mark Miller Report: Final basketball thoughts

Take a deep breath, now exhale. Feel better? Now that a few days have passed since the loss it is time to put the season in perspective. Yes, it always hurts to lose. It hurts even more when there is so much on the line. UConn got hot at just the right time and Florida picked a very bad time to play its worst game of the season. It happens.  Time for one last basketball piece before I move onto to what has transpired in spring football practice.

I pointed out (much to the dismay of many here) that it would be difficult to go 32 straight games without having a bad night offensively. The Gators almost pulled it off. The key word there being almost, still a Final Four appearance is a spectacular season. They remember who made the Final Four.  Final Four banners look great hanging in your arena. When the Gators make it to their next NCAA tournament (hopefully next season) announcers will say “Florida has been to the Final Four five times” or “Billy Donovan has taken the Gators to four Final Fours.”  Being in the Final Four is like being in the Super Bowl or the BCS Championship game or the College World Series. It is an accomplishment. Try not to let the disappointment of ending one game to soon detract from the enjoyment of what this team accomplished.

This was not a team full of superstars. This was a team full of team players where the pieces added up to more than just the sum of the parts. Billy Donovan did probably his best job of coaching in his career this season. In this day of early departures at major programs everywhere, the Gators started four seniors. That in itself is quite an accomplishment.

As for the game itself, I think Billy and the team came in with a great game plan and executed it to perfection for ten minutes. They smothered the UConn offense holding them to a mere four points in the first quarter of the game. However, and this is just my speculation, the defensive game plan that worked so well for that first ten minutes was exhausting to execute and the Gators were gassed halfway through the first half. They never recovered. The team just seemed to run out of gas finally.

A 12-point lead vanished in the blink of an eye when freshman Kasey Hill made a few mistakes in a row and the defense suddenly floundered. It then became quite apparent that the brutal early pace had taken its toll on Scottie Wilbekin. He was exhausted and hurting. By the second half they were icing both of Scottie’s knees. The rest of the team was already cold by that point. Except for Patric Young who turned in one of his best games as a Gator, unfortunately it just wasn’t enough.

Now, it is time to think about next year. A lot will depend on what Kasey Hill and Chris Walker decide to do. Walker says he is coming back. I have no reason to doubt him. Clearly, neither Walker nor Hill is ready to play in the NBA but that seldom matters these days. If these two future stars make the right decision and come back for their sophomore seasons, the Gators will be right back in the mix next season too. Could they make an unthinkable five straight Elite Eights? It would be fun to watch.  Go Gators.