Florida has made three consecutive trips to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament. The Gators are used to prevailing in tough games and physical battles.
So maybe it shouldn't be a surprise that coach Billy Donovan's team successfully navigated one of the toughest four-game stretches any team in the nation will face this year, going 3-1 with a one-point loss on the road to a ranked opponent.
The No. 16 Gators survived a rally from Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden to win 77-75 and finish a brutal 21/2 weeks that included wins over Florida State and No. 13 Kansas and the aforementioned loss at No. 12 UConn.
Forward Casey Prather, one of the most improved players in the country so far this season, was at it again. He scored 22 points to lead all scorers on eight of 13 shooting.
Donovan has had a very good sixth man in Dorian Finney-Smith but not production to speak of off the bench otherwise. That should change soon when he is able to infuse star recruit Chris Walker into his lineup. Walker was recently admitted to school and allowed to begin practicing with the Gators after academic issues kept him out of the fall semester.
The fact that Florida has done what it has over the past four games and only figures to get better with Walker has to scare plenty of folks inside and outside of the Southeastern Conference. Based on the results this team has produced in this rugged stretch, there is no reason to think Florida doesn’t have another Elite Eight run coming – and maybe more.
Meanwhile, Memphis and Josh Pastner ought to feel good about how they played and having a chance to win with the last possession of the game. But there is undoubtedly some frustration considering it was the 14th loss in 15 tries against ranked opponents since Pastner was hired.
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