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The bracket-busting Eagles aren't fazed by making it to the Sweet 16. They intend to keep going even though they face Florida.
Florida Gulf Coast's Sherwood Brown dunks during Thursday's practice for the Eagles' NCAA regional semifinal game against Florida on Friday.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
ARLINGTON, Texas — A week ago, Florida Gulf Coast University was just another overlooked No. 15 seed — a long shot at best to nearly everyone eyeballing their NCAA tournament brackets.
Now the Eagles are the high-flying show from “Dunk City” in the round of 16, the darlings of the South Regional and a bracket-busting team everybody is talking about even when surrounded by former national champions Michigan, Kansas and Florida.
“Things have changed dramatically,” FGCU coach Andy Enfield said.
“The way we looked at it, we did make history. ... We feel like we shocked the world,” said Brett Comer, the guard with 22 points and 24 assists in two NCAA games. “Nobody picked us to beat Georgetown, or San Diego State, for sure. We’re going to prepare for Florida the same way. We’re going to try to win again.”
Florida Gulf Coast (26-10) plays the SEC regular-season champion Gators (28-7), the No. 3 seed in the South, tonight. The improbable intrastate showdown is magnified even more at Cowboys Stadium, where the court is on a raised stage and below giant high-definition screens that had the players’ attention on Thursday.
“Even if you make big plays, it’s hard to get a good angle on that TV, you have to stand right on the edge [of the court],” Eagles forward Chase Fieler said. “We’ll have to run more toward the sideline to see it.”
This group doesn’t need one of the world’s largest HD displays to appear larger than life, though any highlight dunks sure will look good on the big screens.
How about a few shots up there of their sun-soaked campus in Fort Myers, Fla., with its man-made lakes and a beach? The school’s first classes were held in August 1997, making FGCU younger than the players who have put it on a national stage.
“I never heard of Florida Gulf Coast until actually I started to visit the school and to attend it,” admitted Sherwood Brown, the dreadlocked showman who leads the Eagles in scoring (15.6 points per game) and rebounds (6.6 rpg) and is their only senior starter.
After their two NCAA tournament victories in Philadelphia, the Eagles arrived home early Monday morning. All the players were in back in class a few hours after that, though the atmosphere had certainly changed on the campus with an enrollment of 13,468.
“It was a busy week, just with the attention and the media being around. And the students were excited about what’s going on and talking to us,” Fieler said.
“But now we’re in Dallas, we can feel the game starting to get closer and closer,” Enfield said. “Just like the Georgetown and San Diego State games got closer and closer. And they’re very, very focused.”
While Florida Gulf Coast was back home getting accolades and trying to prepare among a pep rally-type atmosphere, the Gators spent the entire week in Texas. They stayed in the Lone Star State instead of going back-and-forth after beating Minnesota last Sunday in Austin, about three hours away.
The Eagles are in the round of 16 in only their second season being eligible for the NCAA tournament. Florida, a state school with nearly 50,000 students, has a roster loaded with NCAA experience.
It is the first time that two teams from the same state have met in this round of the NCAA tournament.
Florida, which won consecutive national titles in 2006 and 2007, has been to the regional finals each of the last two years. But this is the last chance for seniors Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy and Mike Rosario to get a championship of their own.
“We remember the pain it caused for us last year,” Boynton said. “I think we used it to learn. ... We’ve been close. And our goal is to get further this year.”
The Gators, Kansas, Marquette and Ohio State are the only teams in the NCAA round of 16 for the third season in a row. It is the first time Florida has done that.
Yet, most of the attention is going to the smaller school about 250 miles away that the Gators have played only once before. That was a 94-60 Florida victory at home in 2008, when Florida Gulf Coast was in only its second season of Division I competition.
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