Donovan wants to remove pressure from seniors

The Gators have been college basketball's best team over the last three months and cemented their place at the top while earning the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. With their postseason set to begin on Thursday, Florida will put its 26-game winning streak on the line in a single-elimination format, but Billy Donovan doesn't want his team focusing on the tournament's pressure.

The pressure that comes with being the top seed is understandable. Florida is a senior-laden team that needs production from its four seniors to reach its potential, and that hasn't been much of a problem this season.

Once the Gators take the floor on Thursday against Albany or Mount St. Mary's, the seniors will be in a single-elimination format that could spell the end of their careers in any game. With the pressure that comes with the No. 1 overall seed, the Gators are expected to breeze through their bracket to the Final Four.

Billy Donovan will talk to his team on Monday about the expectations. The Gators won't practice until Tuesday and Wednesday, aiming to rest their bodies and help the players get their legs back after playing three straight games over the weekend. What has made this team special is its ability block out the distractions, ignore seeds and rankings, and give their best effort. Donovan wants to make sure that doesn't change now.

"I think they realize there's an opportunity given to them and then what do they do with the opportunity," Donovan said. "I don't think our guys are wrapped up in the seeding. I don't think they're wrapped up in anything else other than the fact that there is opportunity they've been blessed with."

There's pressure that comes with three straight Elite Eights, all coming in the earlier years of the current senior class. They want to be the team that breaks through and gets back to the program's first Final Four since 2007, but looking forward to that opportunity could have them eliminated before getting a chance.

That's where this team is different than most. They didn't fall in love with the idea of 18-0 until they were two games away from making it happen. Other teams that might not have played with the same maturity could've succumbed to the pressure of a perfect league record, but this team bought into the message from the head coach and stayed with its eyes on one goal -- the next game.

"I don't think our guys are looking at this as win or bust kind of thing. They're not," Donovan said. "I think they're looking at this right now as ‘we have an opportunity, what are we going to do with our opportunity and what are we going to try to chase and pursue?' You're going to have every team in the tournament doing the same thing. But I think our guys have stayed relatively grounded on those kinds of things that probably at some point don't really mean a lot."

And that's what Donovan continues to preach. As his players turn on the television and heard national pundits spend all week talking about who could win the NCAA Tournament or who could be eliminated early, the goal is to ignore it. The talk means nothing and can only be harmful to Florida's approach.

"If everybody really knew that, they should give up their job, go to Vegas and never have to work again for the rest of their life," Donovan said, cracking a smile.

A day for reflection will come soon. The Gators have already experienced a historical season, rewriting multiple records in the school's record book. But there's one goal remaining that trounces everything else. They've cut the nets down once in the O'Connell Center to celebrate the regular season SEC title and once in Atlanta to celebrate the SEC Tournament title.

Now they want to cut down the nets in Texas to celebrate a national title.

"Our guys are focused right now on the fact that anything that's happened in the past, it's over and done with," Donovan said. "Everybody in that locker room has way, way more of an impact on what's going on in-between the lines than anything else. We need to block out any distractions and focus on what we need to do between the lines."

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