GAINESVILLE — The University of Florida is in the Sweet 16 for a school-record fourth straight year, prompting Gators coach Billy Donovan to tell his team a story.
The halfway point on a Mount Everest climb, he said, is a place where many stop to rest, with about 80 percent never finishing the climb.
His message: complete the climb.
Florida (34-2) meets UCLA on Thursday, when a win will put the Gators in the Elite Eight for the fourth straight year. Each of the past three seasons, the Gators lost in the region final, one victory shy of the Final Four.
“I just think that the year is always a climb,’’ Donovan explained on Monday, when the team was back on campus after weekend games in Orlando. “And I think a lot of times it’s very, very easy in the middle of your climb to look back, see how far you’ve come, to want to rest, relax, maybe lose sight or perspective of where you started out as a team and how you’re trying to continue on in that journey.
“When you’re climbing, you’re dealing with a lot of adversity. But there’s also a lot of great things, opportunity-wise, out there in front of you. And I think the minute you start to look back on where you’ve come from... you lose sight of what’s out in front of you, and maybe you never get a chance to realize your fullest potential as an individual or as a team.”
In 2007, Donovan’s last national title team, his catch phrase was “Live in the moment.’’ This time, it’s “Complete the climb.”
“I think you’ve got to be unique; you’ve got to be creative,” Donovan said of communicating with players. “Every game there’s different challenges that present themselves, and in presenting those challenges to your team you want to be able to get them across.”
WILBEKIN OK: Florida senior guard Scottie Wilbekin suffered a bruised knee in the third-round win against Pitt, but Donovan doesn’t think it will be an issue.
“He was diagnosed with a bruise or just kind of banged knees,’’ Donovan said. “Actually (trainers) thought at first it was some cramps because he’s had some cramping issues during the course of the year. But there’s no issues right now, at least that I’ve been aware of or made aware of as it relates to him practicing and going forward.’’
SEC SHOWING: The three SEC teams that received NCAA bids – Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida – all reached the Sweet 16 and are 7-0 in the tournament.
“Just because a certain league’s teams get knocked out early doesn’t mean the league is overrated, and because a league really, really advances in the tournament doesn’t mean the league is great,’’ Donovan said.
“Sometimes it has to do with match-ups, sometimes it has to do with who you’re playing against, sometimes it has to do with how well you’re playing. There’s a lot of variables that go into winning in postseason.’’