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Florida Gators dancing!

GAINESVILLE — They didn’t finish strongly, but the Florida Gators did enough. UF is going back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since winning it all in 2006 and 2007.

Florida (21-12) received the No.10 seed in the NCAA Tournament’s West Regional on Sunday and will play No.7-seeded Brigham Young (29-5) on Thursday in Oklahoma City. A win in the first round and Florida will face either No.2-seeded Kansas State, the runner-up in the Big 12 Conference tournament, or No.15-seeded North Texas, winners of the Sun Belt Conference tournament.

“We’re very, very excited, and grateful for the opportunity,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said in a press release after CBS’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show. “I’m most excited for our players having a chance to experience this, for most of them this is something they haven’t been through yet.”

Gators senior forward Dan Werner and redshirt junior center Vernon Macklin are the only players on the Gators’ roster who have experienced the NCAA Tournament. Werner was a little-used reserve in 2007 when Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer led the Gators to the Final Four in Atlanta and defeated Greg Oden’s Ohio State in the championship game. Macklin was a reserve at Georgetown before transferring to Florida two seasons ago.

“We’re all excited to be in the NCAA Tournament,” Werner said in a press release. “It’s such a great feeling. That being said, now we need to turn our focus to BYU and need to come with the right mindset and take full advantage of this opportunity.”

The Gators’ at-large bid to the 2010 NCAA Tournament is especially sweet for Werner, who has been criticized by fans for his role in the Gators’ 0-3 losing streak to end the regular season. Florida left Nashville, Tenn., on Friday dejected after losing to Mississippi State in the second round of the Southeastern Conference tournament. It had been speculated that the loss to Mississippi State, coupled with the large number of upsets in other conference championship games, would combine to keep Florida out of the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season.

The NCAA Tournament selection committee had other plans for the Gators, though. Florida shares its No.10 seed along with two other teams that received at-large bids, Georgia Tech of the Atlantic Coast Conference and Missouri of the Big 12. Those No.10-seeded teams were considered destined for the NCAA Tournament before the conference tournaments began.

“It was a stressful 48 hours not knowing if we were in or out,” Florida junior forward Chandler Parsons said in a press release. “We’re really excited to be a part of it. For most of us it’s our first experience with the NCAA Tournament.”

Florida made the NCAA Tournament while SEC members Mississippi State (23-11) and Ole Miss (21-10) did not. The Gators defeated Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss., during the regular season and UF defeated Mississippi State at home. After dispatching Florida in the SEC Tournament, Mississippi State went on to knock off No.20 Vanderbilt in the semifinals. The Bulldogs lost to No.2 Kentucky in overtime of the SEC tournament championship game on Sunday.

After missing the NCAA Tournament in 2008 and 2009, Florida beefed up its non-conference schedule this season. That change in philosophy appeared to help Florida earn its at-large bid on Sunday. Florida defeated three teams this season with a top 50 RPI rating: Michigan State, Florida State and Tennessee. Florida also played Richmond, Xavier and Syracuse, non-conference opponents now in the NCAA Tournament.

"Probably a couple of years ago, we weren't even in position to beat a Michigan State or a Florida State or go on the road and win some of the games that we've won," Donovan said. "This team has certainly played a much, much more difficult schedule and probably as difficult a schedule as we've played in quite some time."

-jo-

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