The Gators have heard enough.
The country is fixated on No. 15-seeded Florida Gulf Coast’s improbable run to the Sweet 16, and third-seeded Florida is ready to derail the story line. The Gators can squash it with a victory at Cowboys Stadium on Friday night (9:57 p.m., TBS).
“Going through the channels this morning, as soon as we turned on the TV, we saw them,” Florida guard Kenny Boynton said before Thursday’s practice. “We definitely are tired of seeing them. The only way to stop it is to go out and beat them.”
In addition to silencing an annoyance, the Gators (28-7) can earn a spot in the South Region championship Sunday against No. 1-seeded Kansas or No. 4-seeded Michigan.
FGCU, in just its second season in Division I, dominated the sports world the past few days after becoming the first No. 15 seed in NCAA tournament history to reach the Sweet 16. The Eagles arrived here after decisive wins over No. 2-seeded Georgetown and No. 7-seeded San Diego State in Philadelphia.
The Eagles’ exposure exploded, with the national media flooding their Fort Myers campus and their locker room at Cowboys Stadium. When Michigan walked past the herd of TV cameras, an assistant muttered, “That must be for Dunk City.”
The team that could not convince the Gators to join it for an informal scrimmage in the preseason upstaged them in the opening week of March Madness. Florida, a two-time national champion that reached the Elite Eight each of the past two seasons, is a sideshow next to FGCU’s traveling circus.
“It motivates us because we’re tired of seeing these guys get all this credit,” Gators center Patric Young said. “They did a really good job, but (people) are deciding they won the game before it’s even been played.
“We just want to prove we’re not gonna be some pushover team that they can walk all over like they’ve been doing. We’re gonna give them a fight.”
The Gators had plenty of time to watch TV the past few days after busing from Austin to downtown Dallas and staying in a hotel. One of the most irritating sights was a widely replayed segment of an FGCU pep rally.
The signature moment of the rally was the student body drowning out coach Andy Enfield with a profane anti-UF chant.
“It’s good for them to have fun because they won two games,” said Gators forward Will Yeguete, who thinks the coaches will replay the video prior to the game. “I guess they want to celebrate that. We can’t do anything about it. People do what they do.”
Other than the majority of the country seemingly rooting against them, the Gators have every advantage over FGCU and are 13-point favorites.
Florida leads all major-conference teams in scoring defense and is third in opponent shooting percentage. It held teams to 40 percent or worse from the field in 21 of 35 games this season and lost only once when that happened.
The Eagles matched Georgetown and San Diego State’s athleticism but are vulnerable to being bullied. That could be especially problematic in the post against Florida, which has two players — Young and Erik Murphy — bigger than any of FGCU’s options.
“We’re outweighed, especially in the post, by 50 or 60 pounds sometimes,” Eagles forward Eddie Murray said. “Patric Young is a perfect example. We don’t have that size. But our guys have speed and other attributes.”
FGCU’s high-flying, lob-heavy offense starts with point guard Brett Comer, who averaged 11 points and 12 assists over the first two tournament games. He frequently will find himself face to face with Gators guard Scottie Wilbekin, one of the best perimeter defenders in the Southeastern Conference.
Bernard Thompson leads FGCU with 23 points per game during the tournament, followed by Sherwood Brown’s 20.5. The Eagles shot 50 percent from the field last week and drilled their higher-seeded opponents by 10 points apiece. They have weapons and they have Florida’s attention.
“They earned the right to play in the Sweet 16 just like us,” Gators guard Mike Rosario said. “This team is just as good as anybody that’s playing out there right now.”