Wilbekin, Gators give UCLA the blues
Published: Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 28, 2014 at 12:39 a.m.
MEMPHIS — Scottie Wilbekin walked off the court and looked into the stands trying to find his parents. Finally, he saw them and waved and smiled.
It was another clutch performance by the Gainesville senior but he had plenty of help. On a night when the whistles tried to put an end to Florida's winning streak, the Gators simply would not be denied.
They turned it into a dunk party at the end and rocked their way into another Elite Eight. This was another of those games where you didn't feel it was secure until Florida did what Florida does so often — bury a team in the final quarter of the game.
This time it was a 10-0 run to counter the shooting of UCLA. These guys got it done when they had to and where they had to — on the boards where they had a 40-30 advantage.
And remember what I wrote about the Gators having to avoid turnovers against the long-armed Bruins. They had seven in the first half and five in the second half.
OK, let me catch my breath because this game was crazy for awhile. After the snail's pace of a game played Saturday in Orlando, this felt like someone spiked the water with Red Bull. It was hard to keep up and that was just for the sports writers writing down made baskets.
It was a game played at the pace that both teams like, but when a game looks like it's on fast forward, it can get away from you. Florida's early spurt of 3-pointers — all five were made in a 4:28 stretch — put Florida into the lead and the Gators were able to sustain a six-point lead at the half thanks in part to some quality minutes by Chris Walker and Kasey Hill.
And with Florida's track record of playing better after halftime it looked like the Gators had little to worry about.
But, of course, an offense as good as UCLA's wasn't going to just go away. The Bruins in their midnight blue uniforms cut the lead to one before — stop me if you've heard this before — Wilbekin took the game over.
He hit a 3 and then made another one of those acrobatic bankers and converted the three-point play. And then he made another ridiculous banker and it was all over but the dunking.
Florida won this game in a conventional way but also unconventional in that the Gators gave up more open shots than they have in the entire postseason. And they won because they made 8-of-9 free throws in the second half.
So that's 29 straight in a remarkable season. Next up — Hump Day.
The Hump has been in Florida's way the last three seasons. Nobody should ever complain about three straight Elite Eights but each time Florida has run into a wall and had to go home. It was Butler in New Orleans, Louisville in Phoenix and Michigan in Arlington.
Now it's Dayton in Memphis.
You're going to hear about The Hump at least a thousand times today and Saturday morning so be prepared.
The previous three have come in different ways. They lost tight games to an eight seed in Butler, a higher seed (four) in Louisville and were blown out by a four seed in Michigan. This is something completely different in the Elite Eight — a Cinderella.
Dayton, who has former UF assistant Tom Ostrom on its sideline, looked really good in dispatching the trees of Stanford in the first game Thursday. The Flyers can fly, although this is the first time I've seen them in person and some of it could be attributed to how slow Stanford is.
There is also this — it's going to be a road game for the Gators. Dayton — by far — has the most fans in Memphis and they were loud in the Sweet 16 game. Dayton is a little more than an eight-hour drive from Memphis.
But while you're thinking about that this morning, also think about another Billy Donovan achievement.
The Florida coach has now won seven straight Sweet 16 games. His only loss came in his first in 1999 against Gonzaga and I still think Casey Calvary went over Brent Wright's back for the game-winning tip-in.
But Saturday won't be about any of that. And Thursday was only about advancing again. These seniors are now 12-3 in the NCAA tournament and if you don't think that is special just ask any of the 56 teams that have been eliminated from the Madness so far this March.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.