February 15, 2019

Florida Gators

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  Florida is hoping that two consecutive trips to the Elite Eight will motivate players to work hard enough to take the next step next season.

"It's definitely going to be a motivating factor for me," junior forward Erik Murphy said. "We were so close, twice to go the Final Four, which is your dream. We just didn't get it done."

Like last season against Butler, Florida let an 11-point second-half lead slip away, this time suffering a numbing 72-68 loss to Louisville in the Elite Eight. The Gators (26-11) appeared to have the game in control after making eight of 11 3-pointers in the first half to build a 41-33 lead. But Florida went cold at the wrong time, missing all nine of its second-half 3-point attempts.

Despite the heartbreaking loss, Florida coach Billy Donovan was pleased with his team's deep NCAA Tournament run as the seventh seed in the West Region. The Gators caught a break when 15th-seeded Norfolk State upset second-seeded Missouri, and they took advantage by knocking off both Norfolk State and third-seeded Marquette.

"You don't get to this point in time unless you have some substance," Donovan said, "and I think our guys have some substance and some toughness and some qualities."

Donovan said his team displayed a competitive maturity during the postseason that it lacked in the regular season.

"Our guys grew up," Donovan said. "That was one of my difficulties during the course of the season, that there was an immature competitiveness about them. I don't mean that negatively, they just didn't understand what it took."

For now, Florida loses just one starter, senior point guard Erving Walker. However, freshman guard Bradley Beal and junior guard Kenny Boynton both haven't decided whether to declare for the NBA Draft or return next season. Both Beal and Boynton said falling short of the Final Four won't play a role in their decision.

"I'm not really focusing on next year right now," said Beal, a projected NBA lottery pick. "I'm still just affected by this loss right now. I want to bond with the team. We had a tough loss."

The Gators bring in a 2012 freshman class that includes four-star point guard Braxton Ogbueze, three-star shooting guard Michael Frazier and three-star shooting guard Dillon Graham. Five-star forward recruit Anthony Bennett is expected to visit the Gainesville campus in April. Bennett has Florida in his final five with Kentucky, UNLV, Oregon and Washington