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College Basketball
Florida powers eager for fresh NCAA start in Austin
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Florida powers eager for fresh NCAA start in Austin

Florida powers eager for fresh NCAA start in Austin
Photo Credit: John Bazemore
Florida center Patric Young (4), pursuing a rebound with Mississippi’s Murphy Holloway, knows his Gators must find a way to close out tight games if they want to advance in the NCAA tournament at Austin.

Florida powers eager for fresh NCAA start in Austin

The Austin lineup for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Upper Midwest to the southern tip of Florida.

But as geographically divergent as it is, the gang of eight had one theme Monday as Austin-bound coaches and players addressed their local media: Forget the past, and concentrate on this week.

For fifth-ranked Miami, the premier team coming to Austin as the second seed in the East Region, that means not resting on its laurels. The Hurricanes, who face Pacific on Friday at the Erwin Center, are coming off their first ACC regular-season and tournament championships.

“We’ve got to turn the page,” coach Jim Larranaga said after Sunday’s conference title game. “When nonconference season was over, we turned the page. Regular season over, turn the page. ACC tournament is over; turn the page. One does not have anything to do with the next.

“We’ve just been through a grueling tournament. You have to rest your sword.”

Others Austin-bound have a strong desire to forget what just happened.

Florida, the South No. 3 seed, which will play Northwestern State on Friday, blew another lead in the SEC tournament final and was upset by Ole Miss. The Gators are 0-6 in games decided by six or fewer points.

“There’s plenty of games where we’ve had reasonable leads and there just seemed like a point where we went dead or allowed the team to come back with no resistance,” center Patric Young told reporters Monday. “It is fair to say that. It’s a problem with the team, something we’ve been trying to get fixed.

“We have to finish plays, keep that fire, stay alert for all 40 minutes. We give teams false hope they can come back and win it. That’s when they get on runs, and we have no answer for them.”

Minnesota, which will face UCLA here late Friday, started 15-1 but finished 5-11 in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten.

“It will be somewhat of a breath of fresh air,” Golden Gophers guard Austin Hollins said Sunday night. “We finally get away from the Big Ten. But at the same time, UCLA is a tough team. We can’t just relax because we’re stepping out of our conference.”

The Bruins need to put aside their disappointment over their sixth seed and trip to Austin.

“We hoped we were going to San Jose. That was our first choice because our fans could go to the game,” coach Ben Howland said Sunday. “Two other Pac-12 teams got to go to San Jose. Arizona is in Salt Lake. Congratulations to them.”

Forward Travis Wear reminded, “We were regular-season Pac-12 champs.”

Freshman star Shabazz Muhammad, whose next stop will be the NBA lottery, said the travel could have been worse.

“At least it’s not Philadelphia,” said the 6-foot-6-inch former McDonald’s All-American. “If we take care of business, it doesn’t matter where we’re playing.”

Shabazz, you’ll love Austin. Besides, of this group, only 14th-seeded Northwestern State is within 900 miles of the Texas capital.

Miami actually thinks it might have some good karma working with Austin.

The only time the Hurricanes have ever been to the Sweet 16, it was at the Erwin Center. They lost to a Bill Self-coached Tulsa team in the 2000 South Regional semifinals but enjoyed the ride.

“I didn’t know they’d ever made the Sweet 16,” said Miami senior Kenny Kadji, a 6-10, 242-pound forward. “Maybe Austin will be a good spot for us.”

Big 12 expatriate Colorado, which will play Illinois, is thrilled to be going to Austin … or anywhere.

“I was nervous watching the selection show,” forward Andre Roberson, the Pac-12 defensive player of the year, said. “Our name didn’t turn up until late. I had flashbacks to two years ago, when we got left out.”

Roberson, who’s from Texas (San Antonio Wagner), is stoked.

“I’ll have lots of friends and family there,” he told reporters. “For me, Austin was the top choice.”

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