Gators should be proud of Elite Eight run, entire season
Today wasn't supposed to go like this.
Billy Donovan was undefeated in Elite Eight games.
Erving Walker was slowly becoming the NCAA Tournament's darling thanks to his early-round heroics.
While Butler was dangerous, they wouldn't be able to handle this dominant Florida team.
But they did and that's all she wrote for the 2010-2011 campaign.
Is it upsetting?
But is it something to be disappointed in?
Not at all.
Granted, Saturday's loss in New Orleans was ugly.
Pat Dooley of The Gainesville Sun called it "atypical" and he is spot on.
In some ways, that was a good thing.
Vernon Macklin scored a career-high 25 points, Alex Tyus chipped in with 14, and the duo combined for 15 rebounds.
In other ways, that atypical performance was bad. Very bad.
Erving Walker made only one field goal and Chandler Parsons, Florida's go-to guy throughout the season, finished with five points and two assists.
And as the box score shows, the bad easily outweighed the good.
However, this team should not hang its head at all.
First of all, Butler is one hell of a team--I predicted that they would win this contest.
Advancing to the Final Four in back-to-back seasons doesn't happen by accident.
They shut down the perimeter and harassed Walker into a horrible 1-10 shooting performance.
They came up with clutch shots in big situations (see: Mack, Shelvin).
When the Gators opened up an 11-point lead in the second half, they didn't quit.
They fought on and rallied.
The Bulldogs were knocked on the ground, but they got right back up and swung a mighty mean right hook to Florida.
This was no Cinderella team and there's no shame in losing to Butler.
Secondly, an Elite Eight appearance is something that most schools can only dream of.
Granted, it will pale in comparison to what the Oh-Fours accomplished, but then again, most teams' resumes play second fiddle to Donovan's national championship squad.
So, take this tournament run as it is--special.
I know it's difficult, but think about it as it is instead of what it could have been.
Finally, this team has grown significantly in the calendar year.
For those of you who listen to our Gator Raiders podcast, I have been extremely down on this team.
With inexplicable early-season losses to UCF, Jacksonville, and South Carolina, I figured that this Florida team would be one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament--if they even got there.
Then, they came together and started playing truly great team basketball.
I never thought that this team was capable of the 16-4 tear they finished the season on.
It's rather remarkable when you think about it.
They won the Southeastern Conference during the regular season and were one win away from winning the tourney.
In January, I would have told you that that was simply impossible and that they'd finish behind Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and maybe even Georgia.
This certainly isn't the ending the Gator Nation envisioned, but that's because early this season, it didn't even seem possible.
It was quite a turnaround and for that, this team has earned all of my respect and then some.
So, was the loss to Butler painful?
Of course, but not only because it meant that the Gators were missing out on the Final Four.
It also hurt because you finally realize what this Florida team went through to get where they were Saturday.
It's been a crazy ride and I feel lucky that I got to experience such an interesting and intriguing story unfold right before my eyes.
Take time to grieve, but remember to reflect.
It was an incredible season and there is no reason for any Gator to hang his head.