DALLAS — While Florida faced some obstacles in its NCAA Tournament prep not learning its first opponent until late Tuesday night, it’s fair to say the time crunch has been even more pronounced for St. Bonaventure.
The No. 11-seeded Bonnies (26-7) defeated UCLA in the late “First Four” game Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio, and then got a plane to Dallas to prepare to face the No. 6-seeded Gators (20-12) less than 48 hours later.
“We had a great flight at 2 a.m. Best flight I’ve ever had at 2 a.m.,” Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt joked upon arriving for his media session Wednesday evening. “But it’s been great, and really looking forward to the challenge of competing against Florida.”
In the end, the quick turnaround was not quite as problematic for Florida as it could have been.
The Gators played St. Bonaventure last season, winning 73-66 in a neutral-site contest in Lakeland, Fla. The Bonnies have a similar look as they did then, relying on senior guards Jaylen Adams (19.4 points per game) and Matt Mobley (18.4), who combined for 48 points in that game against Florida last season.
Florida assistant coach Jordan Mincy had done the scouting report for the Bonnies before that Nov. 2016 game and refreshed it again this week while fellow assistant Dusty May spent his time on UCLA.
Meanwhile, the Florida players watched St. Bonaventure’s 65-58 win over the Bruins together in a meeting room while the coaching staff watched it off on their own.
With the advance work and familiarity with the Bonnies, the Gators had already been thoroughly run through their personnel and tendencies before the team got in a detailed practice session Wednesday afternoon at SMU’s practice facility.
“We had kind of talked previously about both opponents earlier and some of the similarities they had, a lot of ball-screen offense obviously and knowing that both programs had great guards,” Mincy said. “That’s something that prior to us knowing we were playing whoever we were playing, we kind of went through and got our guys mentally prepared. And last night, after the game coach just wanted our guys to get rest and take advantage of basically having a day or so on those guys. We got up this morning, guys had breakfast, we went over some personnel, went over some plays, the top 5, top 6 plays that we think they’ll use and things that hurt us.”
Said May: “We went pretty deep. We had film twice before we came and then had practice. A standard practice with scouting report. It was thorough. It was ready to go, we had a basically full scout, presented it twice already so guys had a good feel.”
Had UCLA won the game, the Gators might be spending more time playing catch-up right now.
“I don’t think it’ll be any easier, but we played them last year. We know kind of a little bit better what those guys want to do or what they’re good at,” Florida point guard Chris Chiozza said of the Bonnies. “So you know, we’re just going to try to make them do things they’re not as comfortable doing. As with UCLA, we haven’t watched them play at all or haven’t seen them play at all until last night, so it would have been probably a little bit tougher scout.”
That doesn’t mean the Gators were rooting one way or the other, or that drawing the Bonnies is any sort of gift.
St. Bonaventure has now won 14 of its last 15 games, have set a program record with their 26 wins this season and managed to get past UCLA even with its two senior standouts struggling offensively. Adams finished 2-of-16 shooting in that game Tuesday night while Mobley was 4 of 12.
“St. Bonaventure, I thought, played extremely hard, defended at a really, really high clip and beat a good Pac-12 team without their best two players, in my opinion, playing at their fullest potential. That shows you how dangerous they are,” Florida coach Mike White said.
The Bonnies have some capable albeit undersized frontcourt players in 6-foot-5 Courtney Stockard (13.3 PPGS, 5.0 rebounds per game) and 6-6 LaDarien Griffin (8.8/6.4). Stockard led the way with 26 points against UCLA.
But the spotlight matchup will indeed be between St. Bonaventure’s veteran guards and Florida’s talented backcourt, with Chiozza (11.2 PPG, 6.1 assists per game), Jalen Hudson (15.3 PPG), Egor Koulechov (13.6 PPG) and KeVaughn Allen (11.3 PPG).
“We’ve got pretty good guards, they’ve got pretty good guards and I feel like it would be a great game to watch,” Florida forward Keith Stone said.
Said freshman guard Mike Okauru: “We know they look to push their transition, they have some real good guards who can shoot it so today in practice we just really tried to emulate that. … We were running their plays actually, some of their plays. And then we tried to emulate their defense as well. They like to play a zone, but they kind of like to press you as well. So we tried to do that in practice.”
Meanwhile, Schmidt, St. Bonaventure’s coach, said he watched tape of Florida on the plane in the early hours Wednesday morning, again when he got to his hotel room and he planned to watch more Wednesday night.
But ultimately, he said, his team and most teams are going to be what they are this time of year and hope it’s enough.
“You’re going to do what you do. You’re going to do what you do best. Florida is going to do what they do best. There’s not going to be a lot of changes,” he said.
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