UF MEN'S BASKETBALL
Gators anticipate 'battle' against physical Panthers
Published: Friday, March 21, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 21, 2014 at 9:40 p.m.
ORLANDO — Orlando is known as “The City Beautiful,” but it's not expected to be pretty when top seed Florida meets ninth seed Pittsburgh at the Amway Center on Saturday.
Who: No. 1 Florida Gators (33-2) vs. Pittsburgh Panthers (26-9)
When: 12:15 p.m.
Where: Amway Center, Orlando
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM
The Gators and Panthers have willed their way to this point with muscle and hustle, with stellar defense, bulky frontcourts and scrappy guard play.
“That could be the most physical game you'll see in the NCAA tournament this year,” said Albany coach Will Brown, who has faced both Florida and Pittsburgh.
As it did against Florida on Thursday, Albany lost by 12 points (58-46) to Pittsburgh. The two teams played on New Year's Eve.
“Whoever can score the easiest in that game is going to win,” Brown said. “I think Florida's ball pressure allows them to get some cheap turnovers which will translate into easy baskets.”
Florida is allowing just 57.9 points per game. Pittsburgh has held teams to 61.9 points per game while playing more than half of its games in the high-tempo ACC.
“I would compare them a lot to Tennessee,” Florida assistant coach Matt McCall said. “I would compare them a lot to Florida State. Those two teams that we played, they want the game to be physical. That's how the game is going to be played. You can't get wrapped up in fouls and fouls not being called. You have to continue to play and be resilient and persevere in those situations.”
The core of that philosophy starts inside, with Florida senior center Patric Young (6-foot-9, 240 pounds) matching up with Pittsburgh center Talib Zanna (6-9, 230). Young is coming off his first double-double of the season (10 points, 10 rebounds), but will need to be strong against a Pittsburgh team with a rebounding margin of plus-6.2.
“We're going to go out there and just try to wear their frontcourt out because they have a lot of depth, a lot of good talented guys, especially (Zanna),” Young said.
Young then alluded to Zanna's 19-point, 21-rebound effort against North Carolina in the ACC tournament.
“It's going to be a battle up front,” Young said. “I'm just excited for the opportunity to go up against someone like that.”
Pittsburgh used its defensive intensity to overwhelm Colorado 77-48 in its opening NCAA tournament game at the Amway Center on Thursday. The Panthers held Colorado to just 18 points on 29.4 percent shooting in the first half. Pittsburgh used its defense to fuel its offense, scoring 24 points off turnovers.
“They do a great job of rotating and helping each other out on defense,” Florida senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said. “They do a couple of different schemes of trapping the low post and having different guys rotating up and having everyone else scramble.
“Like us, they do a good job of priding themselves on defense and they really work hard at that end. There will be a lot of defense played (Saturday).”
Offensively, Zanna paced Pittsburgh with 18 points against Colorado on an efficient 6-of-7 from the floor.
“He's a high-energy guy, great rebounder, great runner, great defender in the pick-and-roll,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “He's a great help defender. They've gotten a lot of productivity out of their frontcourt.”
Florida had some defensive lapses in the first half, but tightened up in the second half of its 67-55 win over Albany on Thursday. But the Gators will need to bring defensive intensity for the full 40 minutes Saturday, Florida senior forward Will Yeguete said.
“It's going to be a dirty game, a lot of rebounds, loose balls,” Yeguete said. “They are a physical team so we're going to match up with their physicality.”
In addition to Zanna, Pittsburgh starts 6-8, 245-pound freshman Michael Young up front and bring a pair of big bodies (6-9, 240-pound junior Derrick Randall and 6-7, 230-pound freshman Jamel Artis) off the bench.
“They have size inside and they rebound the ball pretty well,” Yeguete said. “So I think it's going to be a battle of just getting those rebounds and loose balls and making sure they don't get any second chances.”
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Michael Frazier II 6-4 So. 12.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Sr. 12.9 ppg, 3.8 apg
F Casey Prather 6-6 Sr. 14.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg
F Will Yeguete 6-7 Sr. 4.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Sr. 11.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg
PITTSBURGH PROBABLE STARTERS
G Cameron Wright 6-4 Jr. 10.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg
G James Robinson 6-3 So. 7.8 ppg, 4.1 apg
F Lamar Patterson 6-5 Sr. 17.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg
F Michael Young 6-8 Fr. 11.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg
C Talib Zanna 6-9 Sr. 13.1 ppg, 8.6 rpg
Notes: Florida is making its 17th NCAA tournament appearance in school history and 14th under Billy Donovan (NCAA tournament appearances in 1987 and 1988 were vacated due to sanctions). The Gators are 36-14 all-time in the NCAA tournament and 32-11 under Donovan. … Florida is 2-4 all-time against Pittsburgh. In the last meeting between the schools, Florida won at Pittsburgh on March 23, 1992 in the NIT. … Florida senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin is eight points shy of 900 for his career. ... With 448 wins at UF, Donovan is tied with Dale Brown for second most coaching wins in SEC history. Kentucky's Adolph Rupp leads with 876 career wins. … Florida's seniors became the first players in Florida history to win at least one NCAA tournament game in each of their four seasons. … Pittsburgh has reached the Sweet 16 in five of its previous 12 seasons. … The Panthers went 1-4 against ranked teams this season, with their lone win coming in the ACC tournament against North Carolina.
Three things to watch
1. Getting Frazier involved
Florida sophomore guard Michael Frazier II managed just three points on 1-of-5 shooting against Albany, whose game plan was designed to stop Frazier and point guard Scottie Wilbekin. Pittsburgh is likely to play Florida more straight up with man-to-man defense. Look for Florida to try to get Frazier, the SEC's leading 3-point shooter at 45.2 percent, more involved early. Frazier only had one shot attempt in the first half against Albany.
2. Containing Patterson
Pittsburgh senior Lamar Patterson (6-5, 225 pounds) is a physical swingman capable of driving to the basket and stepping out from 3-point range. It will be important for both Casey Prather and Will Yeguete to keep Patterson from becoming a factor off the dribble. Patterson earned All-ACC second-team honors, averaging 17.4 points and 4.8 rebounds this season. He's also a terrific passer (150 assists) so it will be important for the Gators to play the passing lanes and keep Patterson from becoming a factor either scoring or distributing. “We've got to make sure to stay with him and force him to take tough shots,” Yeguete said.
3. Florida's bench
Florida outscored Albany 26-2 off the bench, a big factor in the outcome of its NCAA tournament win over the Great Danes. Florida freshman point guard Kasey Hill could be a factor off the bench because Pittsburgh starting point guard James Robinson struggles defending quicker point guards. Pittsburgh plays with a rotation of 7-8 players. The Panthers suffered a blow when they lost their best scorer off the bench, guard Durand Johnson (8.8 ppg) for the season with a torn ACL.