Gators Advance in NIT

It wasn't the tournament the Florida Gators wanted to be in, but they finally got the result they were looking for. In the first round of the National Invitational Tournament, the Gators broke a four game losing streak and sent the Aztecs back to San Diego State with a 73-49 win at the O'Connell Center.

It was just a few days ago that head coach Billy Donovan kicked his players out of their multi-million dollar modern practice facility. Followed by a grueling few days of practice, the Gators responded with a strong team defensive effort that held San Diego State to 42 percent shooting. The Aztecs managed just six 3-point shot attempts and the Gators forced 14 turnovers and grabbed three steals.

"It was great to see them come out and do some of the things that we talked about defensively," Donovan said. "They came out with a great disposition after really putting in a lot of time in practice. I'm just glad that they were rewarded for all their hard work."

"The coaches put us through some tough practices," Nick Calathes said. "Team defense is what we worked on most. I think we can become one of the hardest working defensive teams in the nation."

Marreese Speights led the Gators with an 18-point night after a poor performance against Alabama in the first round of the SEC Tournament. Calathes scored 16 and dished out five assists.

"Wins always feel good," Dan Werner said. "When you hold a team under 50 points, you really accomplish something. A lot of hard work went into this, but we still have to get better."

The Gators have at least one more game to see if they can continue to improve. They'll host Creighton at the O'Dome on Friday night at 9:30 p.m. The question now is where do they practice between now and then?

"We don't want to be back in our practice facility," Werner said. "We want to earn it. You don't earn things over one game. You have to earn it over a period of time."

"You have to have a level of humility and understanding of what went into all of the success," Donovan said. "They're practicing on the court that Adonis Haslem and Mike Miller did when they went to a Final Four. It shows them what they had and here's what we have. I want them to understand that is where all the other guys played and they did fine."

"I think we finally realized over the last four games of the season that we're going to win games on the defensive end," Calathes said. "On the defensive end and playing together as a team is what will help us win."

It took 33 games for the young Gators to finally understand what their head coach has been telling them all along.

"This season has been a process," Donovan said. "One of the things I wanted to do was give these guys a chance. We got off to a good start, but I've been saying all along that there have been some problems. I'm proud that they put a lot of hard work in over the last 4-5 days. I'm not surprised at where we're at right now. These guys are hopefully going to be in our program for a while. I have to figure out a way to teach the new guys faster. I don't want to waste a year. I don't care about the record. I care about did you get what you needed to learn."

"We're a young team," Calathes said. "Coach has been through it all. We're a young team and it's our fault that it hit us so late in the season. We won some games and we got cocky, but we were humbled."

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Chris Chmielenski


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