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Gators thrive on heat of near-defeat

UF players say they've shaken off the scary first-round game and are focused on Villanova.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published March 20, 2005


NASHVILLE - Adrian Moss sat at his locker inside the Gaylord Entertainment Center Saturday afternoon and tried to explain how much Florida learned from its near collapse against Ohio in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The redshirt junior forward has been on the losing end in first-round games the past two seasons. As the Gators watched the upsets of highly seeded Kansas and Syracuse, the reality of how fortunate they are to still be playing started to sink in.

"That drove the nail home," Moss said. "When they (other players) saw it, it was more than just me talking about it or David (Lee) or Matt (Walsh). Those were teams that had a chance to win it all. It's like your mother saying, "The stove is hot.' She can tell me it's hot, but I don't know it until I touch it. Now, we've touched it."

And nearly got burned.

The Gators were outscored 25-5 in one stretch as Ohio erased a 20-point deficit to tie, but UF survived the final minute to win. Florida coach Billy Donovan, who was as disappointed in his team's defense as its poor shooting, said the game might have been a blessing in disguise.

"My mentality is that the things that happened are things that prepare you for the future," Donovan said. "We got reminded about our ability to try to defend and rebound. It's pretty good that it happened the way it did and we won."

Florida (24-7) plays Villanova (23-7) at 2:15 p.m. today in the second round. The Wildcats enter under circumstances similar to Florida. Villanova held New Mexico to 11 first-half points and led by 23 at halftime, but survived a late run for a 55-47 win. Villanova shot 28 percent from the field; Florida shot 38.9 percent. That, both teams insist, is why today's game will be different.

"When you go through something like that you have to take the attitude if we go out we're going to go out swinging, go out playing as hard as we can and leave everything on the floor," Walsh said. "That's the key to winning games in the tournament. You can't go out there and hope not to lose. You've got to go out and take the game."

Villanova lists two guards and two forwards in its lineup, but plays a four-guard style and, like Florida, struggled from the field in its first game. The Wildcats' top three scorers - Curtis Sumpter, Randy Foye and Allan Ray - were 6-for-34 from the field. Florida's tandem of Walsh and Anthony Roberson went 6-for-28.

"I heard David Lee say this and I thought it was the best answer today: At this time of the year, one game doesn't affect the next," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "Each game in this tournament is unique. We're going to shoot with great confidence and I expect Florida will too."

Roberson, who was 3-of-15, said that's the way Donovan wants it.

"Coach watched the (Ohio) game and he told us almost the majority of the shots me and Matt took were great shots," Roberson said. "Matt and I have to go out with confidence (today) and just play our game. The biggest thing Coach told us was go out there, play loose and take the same kind of shots."

Florida had 16 turnovers Friday and Villanova had 20 against New Mexico. The Wildcats said that number should decide the outcome.

"Whatever guards take care of the ball better will win the game," Foye, Villanova's junior guard, said.

Florida's defense, its staple until Friday, will be tested by three Villanova starters in double figures: Sumpter, 15.6, Foye, 15, and Ray, 16.8. The Gators are hoping to neutralize the inside presence of sophomore forward/center Will Sheridan with Lee, freshman Al Horford and reserve Chris Richard.

Even with an inside game, the Gators desperately need Walsh and Roberson back on track. The SEC's leading scorer through the regular season, Roberson is 11-of-38 in the last five games.

"I can assure you, me and Anthony are not going to shoot 6-for-28 (today)," Walsh said. "Peep (Roberson) has been struggling for the past few games, so he's due for 28 or 30. We're both going to shoot better, I promise you that."

A trip to Syracuse most likely depends on it.