GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There is good Mike Rosario, and not-so-good Mike Rosario. The difference between the two is easily evident on the basketball court.
The problem is, Florida coach Billy Donovan is never quite sure which Rosario he's going to get. Which one shows up this weekend will play a big part in determining whether the Gators reach the Final Four or have their season end in the Elite Eight for the third consecutive season.
"When he is on edge and he is focused, he plays better, he performs better," Donovan said as the Gators (28-7) prepared for Friday night's Sweet 16 game against Florida Gulf Coast University (26-7) at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. "When he's like that, he's really, really good. I think I've tried to hold him to that standard because he's not that great of a player when he doesn't play that way."
Both sides of the 6-foot-3, 183-pound redshirt senior guard showed up during UF's first two games in the NCAA tournament. Not-so-good Rosario was on the court in the Gators' 79-47 victory over Northwestern State. He scored 8 points on 3-of-9 shooting and had 1 assist and 1 turnover in 15 minutes. He got benched early in the second half after not blocking out and allowing an easy putback basket that cut the Gators' lead to six points.
Rosario left the court with 19:24 remaining. He didn't get back on the floor until 6:39 remained.
"Everybody has a job on the team to do and that's something that coach teaches us every day in practice and every game," Rosario said. "If you have every guy on the same page doing their job, that's how you have great teams. I felt that I let my team down by not doing that."
Two days later, good Rosario showed up.
He scored a season-high 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting (6-of-9 from 3-point range) and had 1 assist, 2 steals and no turnovers in 34 minutes in Florida's 78-64 victory over Minnesota. He played 34 minutes. He scored 17 points to help the Gators take a 21-point lead at the half.
Against the Gophers, Rosario did the three things that Donovan says he has to do to play well:
• Take open shots. No fadeaway 3-pointers from the corner, out-of-control drives or off-balance leaners.
• Be responsible with the ball. No high-risk, low-reward passes, such as the cross-court pass he tried to throw from his hip against Vanderbilt in a March 6 home game -- which ended up in the second row of press seats in former UF player Jason Williams' lap.
• Play the right way. Make the extra pass. Try to get his teammates better shots. Play good defense. Don't gamble for steals. Block out.
"When he's locked in like that, he plays sharp and crisp and tight," Donovan said. "When he's loose and carefree and he's just kind of floating around out there, we don't really get much from him."
Rosario has been that way since he transferred from Rutgers following the 2009-10 season. He's a playground basketball player and those kinds of players don't do well under Donovan.
Rosario averaged 6.6 points and 14.4 minutes per game last season, but he missed 25 practices and five games because of various injuries. Donovan rode him hard. He challenged him in practice. He called him soft, saying his daughter would be able to fight through a hip pointer and not miss 10 days of practice.
"One of the things we've done here, not only myself but our staff, is try to hold him accountable to be the best he can be," Donovan said. "Not only on the court, but off the court."
Donovan isn't doing it maliciously, though. Donovan said he loves coaching Rosario. He says he's had a lot of fun working with him. In fact, Donovan said coaching Rosario these past three seasons has been one of his most rewarding coaching experiences.
Good Rosario is special on the court, too. And for the most part, the Gators have gotten good Rosario this season. He is UF's second-leading scorer (12.5 PPG) and is second on the team in steals (32) and third in 3-point shooting (37.6 percent) and minutes per game (29.4).
He credits Donovan for making sure good Rosario is around most of the time.
"When I first got here, I didn't really understand coach, as far as you have to be responsible for everything you do," Rosario said. "Basically, if you give me an inch I'd take a yard when I was at Rutgers.
"It was different with Coach Billy."
Now he's in a position to help take Florida to the Final Four. Provided good Rosario shows up, of course.