The Gator men’s basketball team is Elite Eight bound for the fourth consecutive season after defeating the UCLA Bruins on Thursday night 79-68.
It was a very up-tempo, high intensity game as the Bruins high powered offense went up against the Gators stout defense that gives up just 57 points per game.
The Gators started slowly, unable to get up clean shots and seemingly unable to find their handle on the basketball. That is, until sophomore shooting guard Michael Frazier II got his hands on the basketball. Frazier hit on his first three 3 point shots and it appeared his struggles from Amway in the first round of the NCAA Tournament did not carry over. After the game, Frazier talked about the motivation he received prior to tip.
“Coach pulled me aside in shoot-around and told me to shoot with confidence. And that’s what I tried to do tonight, take good ones, and they were able to fall,” Frazier II said.
After sinking his third straight shot, the Gators were able to settle into their game and set the pace. The press let the Gators control the tempo for the majority of the game and because of that the Bruins never looked comfortable.
Coming into Thursday’s contest the Gators had every intention of shutting down UCLA’s starting point guard, 6’9″ sophomore Kyle Anderson. Anderson came into this game averaging 14 points per game which is second on the team and his size and athleticism was thought by many to be a match up problem for Florida. However Anderson found himself with two early fouls and his offensive contribution was limited in the first half.
The Gators ended the first half with a 36-30 advantage shooting 42 percent from the field compared to the Bruins 44 percent. However, the Gators really did their damage from beyond the arc shooting 38 percent compared to the Bruins 33 percent. With the sharpshooting ability UCLA presents, their presence inside the paint was of question and the Gators were able to outrebound the Bruins 21-14. The Gators also closed out the first half with eight more assists, six more second chance points and four more points in the paint.
It was clear Florida’s defense was doing exactly what it needed to do and for a team that averages over 80 points per game to have just 30, the momentum fell to the boys in white.
In the second half, it was essentially a story of runs. The Gators jumped out to an 11 point lead just five minutes into the second half behind more great defense a couple more 3’s from Frazier. In the next five minutes the Bruins proceeded to get hot behind the shooting of Anderson and we saw the Gator lead drop down to just one.
But it’s here the Gators decided to go on a run that would essentially put the game away and in the next five minutes the Gators would increase their lead all the way back to 11 points. With the score at 60-55, senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin would score the Gators next eight points electrifying the crowd and all but securing his team’s spot in their fourth straight Elite Eight appearance. After the game, Wilbekin said his perseverance paid off in the end.
“I just tried to keep attacking, stay aggressive and take what the defense gave me. My shots weren’t falling in the first half and beginning of the second half, but I just tried to stay the course and keep playing my game.”
With some solid rebounds and solid perimeter defense the Gators gave the Bruins no chance at a comeback and when the buzzer sounded, the Gators officially improved their record to 4-0 against UCLA in the NCAA tournament.
The Gators finished with four players in double figures on the night. Frazier II led all scorers with 19, Wilbekin finished with 13, senior forward Casey Prather finished with 12 and redshirt junior Dorian Finney-Smith played like the SEC Sixth Man of the Year, finishing with 10 points. Two of the biggest stars for the Gators were their five star freshman. Both Kasey Hill and Chris Walker received significant playing time due to foul trouble and they made use of it.
Hill finished the night with six total points, shooting 2 of 4 from the field, 2 of 2 from the line with a whopping 10 assists. Hill was the fourth freshman ever to have at least 10 assists in a Sweet Sixteen game and was the first Gator to record 10 assists since Wilbekin last year against Auburn.
Walker on the other hand was instrumental with senior center Patric Young in foul trouble all night. While playing just six minutes, Walker recorded seven points, three rebounds and one thundering block. Finishing with just two fouls and one bad shot attempt it was a pretty successful night for the freshman who has received very little playing time this season.
Overall, the Gators were able to stick to their plan and they did everything they needed to do to win. They held a team that averages over 80 points per game to just 68 and a team that ranks fifth in the NCAA in assists to just 12. The Gators finished the night shooting a magnificent 50 percent from the field and 38 percent from three. Florida coach Billy Donovan talked about what sparked his team’s success during the game.
“Our guys were able to stay the course, Scottie stepped up late in the game, and I thought Michael Frazier played well from start to finish. We got really good minutes from Kasey Hill off the bench and some really good minutes from Chris Walker as well.”
For the Bruins it just wasn’t there night. Sophomore Jordan Adams did exactly what he does, finishing with 17 points, followed by senior Travis Wear who followed with 14. But some of the other big names struggled some, as Anderson finished with just 11 points and freshman star Zach LaVine finished with just five.
The Gators had control for the majority of the game and the stats are there to prove it. Florida finished with four more points in the paint, five more second chance points, and doubled the Bruin bench points. N
Next up for the Gators will be the 11 seed Dayton Flyers, the Cinderella of the tournament. The Flyers have taken out the Ohio State Buckeyes and Syracuse Orange and Stanford and they would love nothing more than to add the top ranked Gators to that list.
Tip-off has officially been announced for Saturday at 6:09pm.
For post-game audio of players and head coach Billy Donovan click on the links below: