Florida returns to the Sweet 16 with impressive win over Virginia


Florida guard Kasey Hill shoots as Virginia center Jack Salt (33) and guard Darius Thompson (51) defend, during the first half of a second-round game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Saturday, in Orlando, Fla.

(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Published: Saturday, March 18, 2017 at 11:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 18, 2017 at 11:04 p.m.

ORLANDO — By solving Virginia’s vaunted pack-line defense, Florida is moving on to the Sweet 16.

Facts

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Who:
No. 4 seed Florida (26-8) vs. No. 8 seed Wisconsin (27-9)

When: Friday, TBA

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York

TV: CBS

Radio: 103.7-FM

Junior forward Devin Robinson posted a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds and senior forward Justin Leon added 14 points, lifting the fourth-seeded Gators to a 65-39 win Saturday over fifth-seeded Virginia at the Amway Center.

Florida is making its 11th trip to the Sweet 16 in school history and the fifth trip in its last seven NCAA Tourney appearances. The Gators (26-8) will face eighth-seed Wisconsin (27-9) on Friday night (time TBD) at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Wisconsin upset top-seed Villanova 65-62 earlier Saturday afternoon.

“This is the best feeling I’ve ever had, right here,” Florida junior point guard Chris Chiozza said. “We’ve got more work to be done so we can’t get too excited. We gotta enjoy this moment right here, but when we leave this locker room, it’s back to business.”

Florida coach Mike White implemented a solid game plan that included patient ball movement against Virginia’s intricate defensive system. The Gators had 10 assists on their 23 baskets.

“We just didn’t try to force anything, moving the ball,” said Chiozza, who had seven points and five assists. “No matter how good a defense is, if you move the ball, you’re going to break them down, eventually, especially when they get tired.”

Florida also made some timely shots from the perimeter, going 8 of 21 (38.1 percent) from 3-point range. For the second straight game, Robinson was a factor inside and out, making a pair of 3-pointers while posting his second straight double-double and fifth double-double of his career.

The Gators took control of the game with 21-0 run that stretched from the 5:10 mark of the first half to the 17:15 mark of the second half. Leon made three 3-pointers during the run, including back-to-back 3-pointers that put Florida up 40-17 early in the second half.

“We just had to get them uncomfortable and play our tempo,” Robinson said. “We knew if we played a methodical tempo, it would have been a tough game for us. We just tried to stay aggressive on defense and get in transition the best we can, and that turned into great offense.”

Florida maintained its lead throughout the second half by holding Virginia to just 29.6 percent shooting from the floor. The Cavaliers went just 1 of 15 from 3-point range. Florida held Virginia to an all-time NCAA Tournament low 39 points.

“It was a collective effort to hold a 23-win ACC team to under 30 percent,” White said. “These guys really, really guarded to give us a chance.”

With point guard Kasey Hill draped on Virginia senior guard London Perrantes throughout the game, the Gators held Virginia’s leading scorer to six points on 2-of-12 shooting. At one point, a frustrated Perrantes threw the ball at the sideboard as Virginia went into a timeout in the second half.

“That was probably our best 40 minutes that we played all year, that one and the Kentucky game at home,” Chiozza said. “Those two, tick for tack, we played great both games.”

With starting power forward Isaiah Wilkins out with strep throat, Virginia stuck with a three-guard starting lineup, with freshman forward Mamadi Diakite and 6-foot-11, 247-pound Jack Salt at center.

Freshman center Gorjok Gak was a surprise contributor early, checking in for starting center Kevarrius Hayes after Salt got a couple of early inside baskets. The 6-foot-11 Gak, who finished with a career-high six points, scored a basket on a tip in to tie the score at 8, then beat Virginia downcourt in transition for a breakaway dunk to give Florida its first lead, 15-13.

After a Darius Thompson jumper in the lane cut UF’s lead to 19-17, the Gators closed the half with a 12-0 run. Leon began the run converting a three-point play on a runner in the lane, putting the Gators up 22-17. Then, Leon hit a pair of free throws after being fouled on a rebound attempt to extend UF’s lead to 24-17. On UF’s next trip down the court, a corner 3-pointer from Leon sent the pro-Gator crowd at the Amway Center into a frenzy.

A Hayes putback off a Kasey Hill missed 3-point attempt put Florida up 29-17. Then, after forcing Virginia’s fifth turnover of the half, Florida held for the final shot. Hill drove the lane and found Hayes open under the basket on a bounce pass. Hayes converted the dunk to put Florida up 31-17 at the break.

Florida held Virginia (23-11) to a season-low 17 points in the first half. Perrantes had just two points on 1-of-7 shooting. As a team, Virginia shot just 28.6 percent from the field in the first half (8-28) and 14.3 percent from 3-point range (1-7).

Florida was able to survive a cold-shooting first half from the perimeter (2-9 from 3-point range) by attacking the basket. The perimeter shots fell more frequently in the second half.

“We stayed the course,” Hayes said. “It was just keep poking and prodding, trying to find the gaps when we could. And when we got the open shots, we were fortunate enough to knock them down.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or kevin.brockway@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

FREE THROWS: Former Gator and current PGA golfers Billy Horschel and Matt Emery were in the stands. Both chatted with new Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin before the game. … Florida improved to 8-0 in its last eight NCAA Tournament games in state. The Gators last lost an NCAA Tournament game within the state on March 23, 2003 against Michigan State in Tampa.

FLORIDA 65, VIRGINIA 39

VIRGINIA (23-11)

Diakite 4-8 1-1 9, Salt 4-5 0-0 8, Perrantes 2-11 2-2 6, Thompson 3-7 0-0 6, Hall 0-3 0-0 0, Reuter 1-2 1-2 3, Jerome 0-4 0-0 0, Guy 0-4 0-0 0, Shayok 2-9 2-2 7. Totals 16-53 6-7 39.

FLORIDA (26-8)

Leon 4-8 3-3 14, Robinson 5-8 2-5 14, Hayes 3-3 1-2 7, Hill 1-4 1-2 3, Allen 2-10 0-0 4, Stone 1-2 0-0 3, Gak 3-3 0-2 6, Rimmer 0-0 0-0 0, Chiozza 3-8 0-0 7, Barry 1-4 4-4 7, Hester 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-50 11-18 65.

Halftime_Florida 31-17. 3-Point Goals_Virginia 1-15 (Shayok 1-3, Hall 0-1, Guy 0-2, Thompson 0-2, Jerome 0-3, Perrantes 0-4), Florida 8-21 (Leon 3-6, Robinson 2-4, Stone 1-1, Chiozza 1-2, Barry 1-2, Hill 0-2, Allen 0-4). Fouled Out_Hall. Rebounds_Virginia 29 (Salt 10), Florida 32 (Robinson 11). Assists_Virginia 8 (Perrantes, Thompson 3), Florida 10 (Chiozza 5). Total Fouls_Virginia 17, Florida 10.

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