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Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Albany a wake-up call for Gators

ORLANDO — Mama said there'll be Danes like this.

You can make as much or as little as you want over Florida's dreary NCAA tournament opener.

Let it be known: There was 14:32 left in the game and the top-ranked Gators, the tourney's No. 1 seed, winners of 26 straight, 21-0 in SEC games, were sleepwalking. They were tied 39-39 with the Great Danes of 16 seed Albany, formally the University at Albany.

The University at Gainesville was in trouble.

Top seeds beating 16s is as mortal a lock as you get in this world (116-0 going into this game). If the Gators had fallen Thursday, it would have been epic. Lose, and Billy Donovan has to go and interview for the South Florida job — only he has to stand in line behind the Albany coach.

Just kidding.

Florida managed to win, 67-55.

“The most important thing here is survive and advance, and we advance,” Donovan said.



A survival test?

Make a lot out of it. Think about Florida's deficiencies, the sudden holes in its game, despite all those wins, then mix it with the Gators' next opponent, Pittsburgh, which took the Amway Center floor before Florida and made a human sacrifice of Colorado — 77-48.

Or make nothing out of it. Decide that no two tournament games are alike, that this was just the jolt that was needed. Billy's bunch might pound Pitt on Saturday.

I bet Donovan sees it this way:

It's perfect.

It's a motivational godsend for a team that hasn't lost in three months.

33-2 and they nearly had their world rocked.

He has his players' undivided attention.

He can tell them: We can't win again playing like that.

Throw in all those new noises, the doubters.

Pitt looked great. Florida looked horrible.

People had been singing the Gators' praises for months, as the wins piled up.

Albany coach Will Brown was still doing it after his 16 battled and battled 1.

“If there is a better team in the country than them, let me know,” Brown said.

Now, it's about the Gators realizing no one is too much of anything in March.

You can't take anything for granted.

This Florida team isn't as dominant as the teams that won those titles. The margin of error is thinner.

When something doesn't show up, like the normally stellar Gators defense, it's trouble, as it was Thursday.

When point guard and SEC player of the year Scottie Wilbekin doesn't play well, and he looked totally lost Thursday, it's trouble.

When Tampa's Michael Frazier II isn't on, and he most definitely wasn't Thursday (he hit one shot), it's trouble.

But the margin is always thin in March.

In 2007, on its way to a second consecutive national title, top overall seed Florida crushed Jackson State by 43 in the opening round, but struggled with Purdue a few days later, trailing with as few as seven minutes remaining.

In 2000, the Gators needed Mike Miller's runner to beat Butler at the horn in the first round. Florida proceeded to make it all the way to its first title game under Donovan.

Then again, Florida was a 5 seed and Butler was a 12 seed.

This was 1-16.

Yes, the 1 is now 117-0.

If you're Donovan, Thursday was perfect in a different way.

A wake-up call, an object lesson.

And everybody suddenly wondering about Billy's bunch.

Boy, did Pittsburgh look good or what?

It's all in the response.

It's March.

You take it one Dane at a time.

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