The No.1 seeded Florida Gators (35-2) have been in this situation before where they have had the chance to advance to the Elite Eight round of the NCAA tournament. Before they can make another trip to the Elite Eight, they had to get past Kyle Anderson and the UCLA Bruins (28-9).
The Bruins kept it close for the entire game until the last five minutes when the Gators were able to get a choke hold on the game and finished the Bruins off for good with a 79-68 victory at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, TN.
“I thought our guys were able to stay the course. I didn’t feel like Scottie in the first half and even Patric Young were able to get in the flow of the game and have a great game,” coach Donovan said. “I thought Scottie stepped up and made some great plays, especially late in the game. Michael Frazier, from start to finish, played well.
We got really good minutes from Kasey Hill. Chris Walker gave us good minutes. Some of our older guys even Casey Prather got into foul trouble. I thought it was a team effort at different points and times, different guys stepping up and helping with the win.”
In the open minutes of the first half, Prather knocked the three ball to put Florida on the scoreboard. For the remainder of the half, both teams were trading baskets. At the 7:43 mark, Florida held a nine-point lead (28-19) after Prather knocked down the jump shot.
UCLA would quickly get the lead down to two (28-26) with Zach LaVine scoring five of the Bruins’ next seven points. Florida quickly responded with points scored by Dorian Finney-Smith and Kasey Hill as they held a 31-26 lead with 4:20 to go in the first.
UCLA would continue to score with two free throw shots made by Travis Wear. Travis brother, David, was a big part of the Bruins’ offense as he added seven points before halftime.
Bryce Alford would get in on the scoring action with a layup of his own to get the Bruins within three points with 1:47 remaining in the first.
Florida went into halftime with the 36-30 lead after freshman center Chris Walker scored the team’s final three points of the half.
At halftime, it was anybody’s game as both teams weren’t shooting the basketball well from the field.
As a team, Florida shot 41.9 percent (13-of-31) from the field. The Bruins shot 44 percent (11-of-25) from the field.
Sophomore guard Michael Frazier II led the Gators in scoring with nine points.
Coming out of the first half, Florida had looked to be UCLA away for good, but it wasn’t going to be easy. Every time Florida scored, the Bruins would answer with a score of their own. With 10 minutes left in the game, Florida held a one-point lead (56-55) after being up by eight points (56-48).
Senior guard Scottie Wilbekin was quiet in the first half as he only scored three points, but came alive in the second half with a shot from beyond the arc to give his team a comfortable eight-point lead (63-55) with 6:15 remaining.
On the Gators next possession, Wilbekin hit the lane for off balanced hook shot that converted into a three-point play.
Wilbekin mentioned that it’s fun to play in close games whether his team is up or down.
“I like it. Those are times of the game where the game’s on the line. It’s the funnest to play in those type of games,” Wilbekin said. “But I mean we just try to work the ball around, and if it gets to a late clock situation, we try to hit some pick-and-roll action or some way where I can try to get in the lane or create for myself or somebody else.”
The Bruins would once again fight back and cut the Gators’ lead down to five points (68-63) after the made jumper by Jordan Adams. But the Gators went on an 11-5 run to end the game and send the Bruins home.
“I really appreciate the effort of our seniors. Both David and Travis were tremendous all year and I don’t think they got near the credit that they deserve. They have worked their butts off all year at practice and just done a great job doing the little things for us,” coach Alford said.
Adams finished the game as the Bruins’ leading scorer with 17. T. Wear added 14 points. Anderson pitched in 11 points, nine rebounds, and five assists.
As for the winning group, Frazier finished as the Gators’ leading scorer with 19 points. There were three other Gators’ who scored in double figures: Wilbekin (13), Prather (12), and Finney-Smith (10).
The Gators will now get ready to take on the Dayton Flyers, who defeated Stanford to advance to their first Elite Eight since 1984.
The game is slated for Saturday at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, TN. Tip-off for the game is 5:09 p.m. CST. The game will be televised on TBS and is available on the NCAA March Madness Live App.