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Florida Gulf Coast is up for challenge of Florida in South Regional semifinal

Florida Gulf Coast players Dajuan Graf, left, and

Florida Gulf Coast players Dajuan Graf, left, and Bernard Thompson use their "Eagle Eyes" to view the crowd during a pep rally for the men's basketball team at Alico Arena in Fort Myers, Fla., celebrating their team's to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA college basketball tournament. (March 25, 2013) Credit: AP

ARLINGTON, Texas -- In the heady moments after Florida Gulf Coast University upset San Diego State to become the first 15th seed in NCAA Tournament history to reach the Sweet 16, guard Bernard Thompson issued a warning: "Dunk City'' is coming to Arlington, so everybody be ready.''

Coach Andy Enfield added that, after two tournament wins, including one over second-seeded Georgetown, "We're FGCU. Hopefully by now people are learning those initials.''

What the Eagles (26-10) might discover is that sudden fame has its pitfalls. While they have been reveling in the national spotlight earlier this week on their campus near Fort Myers, Fla., the big school up in Gainesville -- that is the University of Florida (28-7) -- quietly has been gearing up to bring FGCU's high-flying circus back to earth. Enfield is plenty smart enough to know this, but he can't let his confident demeanor or that of his team flag now.

"We're going to Arlington to try to beat the Gators,'' Enfield said. "I know a lot of players on Florida's team. I know Billy Donovan and their coaching staff. I think coach Donovan is one of the best coaches in the country and has been for many years.''

But having paid homage to a coach with two national titles on his resume, Enfield recalled his five years as an assistant at Florida State and what it was like to compete against Donovan.

"I believe I'm 3-2 against the Gators as an assistant coach, and we're looking forward to the opportunity,'' Enfield said. "We know they can be beaten, but we also have an unbelievable amount of respect for them.''

What Donovan and the other two teams in the South Regional -- Kansas and Michigan -- know is that FGCU can be beaten, too. In fact, the Eagles' 10 losses include five against losing teams -- twice to Lipscomb (12-18) and once each to Stetson (15-16), East Tennessee State (10-22) and Maine (11-19).

That should give an idea of how far and how fast the Eagles have come this season. They also have some quality losses against NCAA teams, including Duke, VCU and Iowa State and against two NIT teams, St. John's and Mercer, which won the Atlantic Sun regular-season title but lost the automatic bid to FGCU in the conference tournament.

The one real hint of what might be possible came in the second game of the season when the Eagles scored a 12-point win over Miami, the No. 2 seed in the East Region. That game was played at FGCU, and the Hurricanes were without starter Durand Scott. But Enfield said the Eagles were competitive against Duke before losing by 21.

"We actually outscored them for 34 of the 40 minutes,'' Enfield said of the Blue Devils. "It was the other six minutes that hurt us a little bit.''

Somewhere toward the end of the season, it all came together for FGCU, and it has been beautiful to witness the magical passing of point guard Brett Comer and the dunks of Chase Fieler, Eric McKnight and Sherwood Brown. But the Eagles have everyone's full attention now, not the least of which is Florida's Donovan.

"I want all our players to take a couple of deep breaths and say, 'Wow, we're in the Sweet 16. We've accomplished a lot,''' Enfield said. "But when we step on the court, we're going to be focused. We don't mix pleasure and joking around when it's time to get serious.''


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