The No. 1 overall seed Florida once again played the long con, allowing No. 4 seed UCLA to stay close, until the Gators pulled away late to earn a 79-68 victory and the school's eighth trip to the Elite Eight.
Head coach Billy Donovan has been responsible for seven of them, tying him with some of college basketball's most legendary names, per The Birmingham News' Jon Solomon:
It's the seventh consecutive win for the school in the Sweet 16 and fourth in a row against the Bruins, per ESPN Stats and Info:
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The win was exactly what Florida fans have come to expect.
UCLA was hanging around for much of the first half, made more impressive by the fact that David Wear, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams all picked up two fouls. The refs were a bit liberal with the whistle, something Donovan alluded to at halftime, per CBS Sports' Doug Gottlieb:
The Gators had a 36-30 lead at halftime, but the close score belied the fact that Florida wasn't in much trouble in the first half. It never got down more than four points—a 4-0 deficit two minutes into the game—before taking a 17-14 lead with 12:17 to go and not looking back.
Really, it all pretty much went according to plan for Donovan in the first half. Florida's style doesn't lend itself to opening up a huge gap early in the game. Instead, the Gators act like a boa constrictor. They slowly squeeze the life out of their opponents, and by the end of the game, the other team has nothing left.
Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis summed it up perfectly:
The Gators looked like they'd cruise after building an 11-point lead, 50-39, with a little over four minutes gone in the second half.
One of the biggest reasons Florida was able to get up on the Bruins so quickly after halftime was the shooting of Michael Frazier II. During the course of the game, the sophomore guard broke the school record for most three-pointers in a season, per OnlyGators.com:
CBSSports.com's Jeff Borzello thought that Frazier's long-range ability turned Florida from a really good team to a great team:
Foul trouble would rear its ugly head again, this time afflicting the Gators. Both Patric Young and Casey Prather picked up four fouls in the second half, adversely affecting their team's performance, per USA Today's Eric Pincus:
With those two either off the floor or at the very least more tentative on the defensive end, UCLA clawed its way back to within a point, 56-55, with 10:04 to play.
Then Florida went on a 10-0 run that all but ended the game. Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde pinpointed a 53-second period in which both Anderson and Adams were off the floor that played a significant role in the Bruins' demise:
Icing Florida's victory away was Scottie Wilbekin. He hit a crazy right-handed fadeaway just outside the paint over Travis Wear to make it 70-63 with 2:38 to go.
That shot led Borzello, Davis and CBSSports.com's Will Brinson to say things like these:
Wilbekin finished the game with 13 points and three assists. He was particularly huge in the second half, helping Florida keep UCLA at bay. The star senior was one of four Gators players to score in double figures. Frazier led the way with 19 points. He hit five of his eight three-point attempts. Frazier also added six rebounds and three assists.
Dorian Finney-Smith nearly outscored the entire Bruins bench by himself, scoring 10 points, while Tony Parker, Bryce Alford and Zach LaVine combined for 11 points. Kasey Hill was also big coming off the bench for the Gators, recording six points and 10 assists.
Anderson did his best to push the Bruins through, narrowly missing out on a double-double (11 points, nine rebounds). Unfortunately for UCLA, he got little support. Adams and Travis Wear combined for 31 points, but that was about it.
As a team, the Bruins went a solid 27-of-64 from the field but a paltry 3-of-18 from three-point range. Getting outrebounded 40-30 and having 12 assists to 22 for Florida also didn't help matters.
Florida moves on to play No. 11 seed Dayton in the Elite Eight. The Flyers upset No. 10 seed Stanford earlier in the day.
While many will be expecting the Gators to coast through to the Final Four, don't be fooled. Dayton is a good team peaking at the right time. Momentum is a valuable asset in March, and the Flyers have it in spades. They believe they can beat any team at the moment.
Florida will no doubt have to be careful, or it will be the next victim to this year's biggest Cinderella.