Gators advance to fourth straight Elite Eight with win over UCLA
Published: Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 28, 2014 at 10:39 a.m.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Florida is back to the point where it has been the last three seasons, one game away from the Final Four.
(1) Florida (35-2) vs. (11) Dayton (26-10), 6:09 p.m.
On TV: TBS
On Radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM
In a back-and-forth game, top-seed Florida saved its biggest run for last Thursday night in its 79-68 Sweet 16 win over fourth-seed UCLA before 14,991 at the FedEx Forum. Florida sophomore guard Michael Frazier II led the Gators with 19 points, but it was senior guard Scottie Wilbekin who again came through in the clutch, scoring 10 of his 13 points in the second half.
The Gators (35-2) extended their school-record winning streak to 29 games and will face 11 seed Dayton (26-10) in the Elite Eight on Saturday (6:09 p.m., TBS). Dayton knocked off Stanford 82-72 in the earlier Sweet 16 matchup.
Florida's season has ended in the Elite Eight in each of the last three seasons.
“It's just history, I guess,” Florida senior forward Will Yeguete said. “When it comes to the game, you've got to play in two days. Dayton is a really good team as well because they made it to the Elite Eight, they want to get to the Final Four as well. So we've just got to keep doing what we've been doing and go for it.”
There were some anxious moments when a driving basket by UCLA (28-9) guard Norman Powell cut UF's lead to 56-55 with 10 minutes remaining. Florida had led by as many as 11 points earlier in the half, but with seniors Patric Young and Casey Prather saddled on the bench with four fouls, UCLA found holes in UF's normally air-tight defense.
But Florida answered with a 10-0 run, smothering UCLA on the defensive end while coming up with some timely buckets.
“We believe in our defense,” Yeguete said. “We know to win games, we've got to play defense. Down the stretch, we were able to get some rebounds and get out on the fast break. Every team is going to make runs, we just have to respond to them.”
Sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith started the flurry with a baseline jumper, then Frazier followed with a jumper to put Florida up 60-55. On the next two trips down the floor, it was Wilbekin, who sank a 3-pointer, then followed it up with a driving three-point play to put Florida up 66-55.
UCLA cut Florida's lead to 68-63 on a Jordan Adams jumper, but Wilbekin came up with one more big basket, a bank shot over UCLA 6-foot-9 forward Travis Wear to put Florida up 70-63 with with 2:35 left.
“My shots weren't falling in the first half, even in the beginning of the second half,” Wilbekin said. “So I just tried to stay the course and keep playing my game.”
Prather added 12 points and Finney-Smith had 10 points off the bench. Florida also got big contributions from its bench. Freshman point guard Kasey Hill had six points and 10 assists, freshman forward Chris Walker had seven points and sophomore guard DeVon Walker came up with a big blocked shot during UF's 10-0 second-half run.
“It was a team effort at different points in time,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “Some different guys stepped up and helped in the win.”
Playing in its fourth Sweet 16 game in the past four NCAA tournaments, Florida played a little loose early, turning the ball over on three of its first seven possessions. But even with the early miscues, Florida maintained its aggressiveness to the basket, with Hill drawing guard Kyle Anderson's second foul on a reach in with 14:05 remaining in the first half.
With Anderson out, UCLA switched to a 2-3 zone. Florida took advantage by shooting over it. Frazier made his first 3-pointer of the game to tie the score at 11, then Wilbekin and Frazier followed with back-to-back 3-pointers to put Florida up 17-14. After a Wear jumper for UCLA, Frazier responded with his third straight 3-pointer, putting the Gators up 20-16.
Frazier shot 5-of-8 from 3-point range and passed Lee Humphrey (113) for the school record of most 3-pointers in a season. Frazier has made 115 3-pointers for the Gators.
Frazier came into the UCLA game just 3 of 13 from beyond the arc in his first two NCAA tournament games.
“Coach pulled me aside in the shoot-around today and just told me to shoot the ball with confidence,” Frazier said. “That's all I tried to do tonight, take good ones, and they were just able to fall.”
Florida extended its lead to 28-19 on a Prather turnaround jumper in the lane. But UCLA responded with a 7-0 run, cutting UF's lead to 28-26 on a driving three-point play by guard Zach Lavine. Young drew his second foul on the play and sat the final 6:11 of the half.
With Young out, Walker provided a boost for the Gators off the bench. Walker hit a turnaround bank shot in the post to extend UF's lead to 33-28. After a driving layup by UCLA freshman guard Bryce Alford cut UF's lead to 33-30, Walker grabbed a big offensive rebound and was fouled going to the hoop.
Walker made his first free-throw attempt, then grabbed the long rebound off his missed second free throw and finished in the lane to extend UF's lead to 36-30 with 1:32 left in the first half. Walker finished the first half with five points, three rebounds and a blocked shot.
Florida held UCLA scoreless the rest of the half, keeping the score 36-30 at halftime. The Gators finished the first half shooting 41.9 percent from the field. After starting the half 5 of 8 from 3-point range, the Gators finished the half missing their final five 3-point attempts.
Defensively, Florida held UCLA to 44 percent shooting in the first half and 2-6 shooting from 3-point range.
“They played very well,” first-year UCLA coach Steve Alford said of the Gators. “They are an outstanding basketball team.”
FREE THROWS: Florida assistant coach Rashon Burno scouted the Dayton-Stanford game. … Former Gator quarterback Tim Tebow and Alabama men's basketball coach Anthony Grant were among fans in attendance. Grant was a former assistant at UF under Donovan and is a Dayton alumnus. … Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson also attended the game, wearing a Gator shirt … Florida improved to 4-0 all-time against the Bruins, with all four wins coming in the NCAA tournament.
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or email@example.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.