Changing history

Saturday's game is a familiar one to the four Florida seniors, being one win from the program's first Final Four appearance since the 2006-07 season. They've had this chance three times before in their Florida careers and couldn't get one more win. Saturday's game against Dayton offers one last chance for the senior class to reach its first Final Four.

"We're not going to let the past haunt us because they have no bearing," Patric Young said. "Of course, we're going to learn from it, but going forward, we're going to get ready for the next team, the Dayton Flyers. We know they're an exceptionally good team, very similar to us in they're a team that really utilize each other."

The added pressure of the No. 1 overall seed means Florida will likely not be the crowd favorite on Saturday in Memphis. Dayton traveled well for its game against Stanford on Thursday night, and with a campus-wide celebration late into the night, there's a chance for more of the program's fan base to make its way to Memphis.

On paper, it looks like an easy road to a Final Four berth. But the No. 11 seed Flyers have beaten Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford to get to this point. They're shooting well from the field and putting opponents in a bind with their athleticism in transition.

The Gators know they're in for a battle regardless of seeding, but they won't let the potential pressure of missing the Final Four by one game in four straight years get to them.

"Everybody knows about our past," Will Yeguete said. "I think we played a really good team the last (three) years, and we have a different team. I think we will bring the energy that we've been bringing the whole tournament and just stay connected."

That connection is what has failed in recent years. And now, instead of a marquee program name like Louisville or Michigan on the other side, it comes from the darling of the tournament. Dayton, led by rising star and coach Archie Miller, has turned into the Cinderella team of this tournament, and its path now runs into the No. 1 overall seed.

The Florida program has history in these situations. The Gators beat George Mason in 2006 to advance to the national championship game. Last season, Florida advanced to the Elite Eight while ending the season of Cinderella team Florida Gulf Coast.

Now, it's a hot-shooting Dayton team.

"As fans, we want to see the underdog team, whatever sport, be able to knock down the David and Goliath type story," Young said. "But that has nothing to do with what happens in between the lines. We've been in hostile environments before. Even if all the fans there are cheering for Dayton, we're still going to stay within ourselves and stay focused on the moment one possession at a time. We won't allow it to affect us. We've been able to handle that all year long."

The Flyers' strength is their depth. They use 11 different players, sometimes substituting as many as four or five players at the same time. Ohio State transfer Jordan Sibert leads the team with 12.5 points, with Devin Oliver (11.9) and Dyshawn Pierre (11.0) close behind. Oliver (7.5 rebounds) and Pierre (5.6 rebounds) are the top two on the team at getting to the glass.

But the depth is what makes them go.

"I think the thing that makes them unique and special in a lot of ways is they've gotten great production from a lot of different people, a lot of different points in the game," Donovan said. "Whether it's been offensive rebounds, it's been a loose ball, hustle play, somebody knocking down a three, somebody making a steal and getting them out on the break. They've got a lot of versatility. They've got a lot of depth, and they use their depth to their advantage."

The Florida players realized the challenge late Thursday night. They weren't able to watch Dayton beat Stanford because of preparing for their game against UCLA, but the Gators didn't waste time in film preparation. They started to watch it on Thursday night.

"They're all great at shooting threes," Scottie Wilbekin said. "They have great percentages. They do a good job of getting in the lane. They're active on defense. I think that they have a lot of depth, have a lot of different guys who can score and put points on the board in a number of different ways. It's going to be a challenge to match up with them and to stick with it for the whole 40 minutes."

The good news for Florida is the depth on its sideline, too. The Gators used nine different players against UCLA, trusting freshmen Kasey Hill and Chris Walker with important roles because of foul trouble to other players. DeVon Walker added seven minutes off the bench plus the normal starter time (30 minutes) for SEC Sixth Man of the Year Dorian Finney-Smith.

The Gators have the depth and talent to match what Dayton wants to do. However, the film makes the Flyers look better than the underdog label they have received.

"I think that people try to create that kind of perception, and it's really an untrue perception," Donovan said. "They are an outstanding team. They went through a very, very difficult time early in their conference schedule, and they've become a great team."


Fightin Gators Top Stories