Gators geared for familiar style of play

Florida will face a familiar style of team on Friday night to open the NCAA Tournament in Austin, Texas. It's the same tempo and speed the Gators see every day in practice. No. 14 seed Northwestern State wants to push the pace of the game and run the ball up the floor, but that isn't a shock for Florida. The Gators will be trying to do the same thing.

"We like to play fast, too," Billy Donovan said. "They've gotten to this point in time of the year, the season and the NCAA Tournament with their style of play and the way they play. They do a great job at it. We've got to play our style of play, too.

"I think the game is going to be played in transition, and they're really good in transition. They can score quickly. They can turn you over a lot. They're really good at those things."

It's the third trip to the NCAA Tournament for Northwestern State and the first in seven years. The Demons have won 20 of their last 25 games, including earning the Southland Conference title on Saturday with a two-point win over Stephen F. Austin.

The fast pace to the Northwestern State offense has produced the nation's leading scoring offense since mid-January, scoring 81 points per game. They use their depth to keep fresh legs on the court and rotate players on the court to keep their up-tempo style. The Demons have 10 players averaging at least 15 minutes on the court each game.

"They get up and down the floor. They're a deep basketball team," Donovan said. "They cause a lot of turnovers. And certainly we're right now just in the early stages of finding more and more about their team, but the little bit I've watched they're very impressive and they've have a great year."

The three common opponents are Southeastern Conference foes Arkansas, LSU and Texas A&M. The Demons lost to all three, with the closest coming in a seven-point loss at LSU. Those games were early in the season, with the latest being at Arkansas on December 29, but there is still some common ground for the Florida scouting to focus.

Donovan downplayed the impact of looking at those games because they were early in the season in hostile environments for the Demons, and the NCAA Tournament will be played in front of neutral crowds.

There's already an upset Donovan can point to when trying to get his team's attention. In 2006, Northwestern State also earned the No. 14 seed and pulled out a 64-63 win over No. 2 Iowa in the first round. Donovan hasn't spoken to the team about that game specifically, and he credited his teams maturity for knowing that upsets are always possible. The Florida players talked about knowing that by watching No. 2 seed Missouri, who Florida was supposed to play in the second round last year, fall to No. 15 seed Norfolk State.

The benefit for Florida is the experience. The core of this Florida roster has played in Elite Eight games over the past two seasons, so they're experienced with these early-tournament games.

"That's really huge because we know how important each game is," Florida center Patric Young said. "You can't take any team for granted. Any team could beat you at any moment, so you have to really come in locked in and focused on doing your job."

Fightin Gators Top Stories