The (1) Florida Gators (35-2) advanced to the Elite Eight for the fourth-straight season with a 79-68 victory Thursday over the (4) UCLA Bruins (28-9) in the Sweet 16 of the 2014 NCAA Tournament at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, TN.
Florida improved to 7-1 in Sweet 16 games under head coach Billy Donovan with seven-straight victories that advanced the program to the Elite Eight (2000, 2006-07, 2011-14). The Gators also extended their winning streak to a school-record 29 games and have now claimed victories in 34 of its last 35 contests.
UF is now 4-0 all-time against UCLA (all in NCAA Tournament play).
OnlyGators.com breaks it all down with eight quick-hitters:
It was over when: Freshman point guard Kasey Hill hustled hard for an offensive rebound with 1:35 to play and got fouled as soon as he grabbed it. Hill converted the ensuing free throws to push Florida ahead by nine. Less than 20 seconds later, after the Gators gave up a jumper, senior forward Casey Prather got fed on the fastbreak and slammed home an exclamation point dunk to put the icing on the cake. Hill had a career-high 10 assists to go along with six points and six boards, while Prather chipped in 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the free throw line with three rebounds and two blocks.
Prominent players: Sophomore guard Michael Frazier II carried the scoring burden most of the evening, posting a team-high 19 points on 5-of-8 shooting from downtown with six boards, three assists and a steal. His five triples also set a new school record for most in a single-season as he has now accumulated 115 in the 2013-14 campaign.
However, it was senior PG Scottie Wilbekin who took over late in the second half. Wilbekin scored eight points in less than four minutes, shaking off his 2-for-10 start from the field. Wilbekin wound up with 13 points (second-most on the team) and three dimes despite going 2-for-8 from three. He did not turn the ball over despite playing 35 minutes.
Significant stretch: Leading by one midway through the second half with Prather and senior center Patric Young both on the bench with four fouls, Florida responded to a 7-0 UCLA run with a 10-0 stretch to take a 66-55 lead with 5:34 remaining. Wilbekin, who started 1-for-7 from three, drained a timely triple and converted a And1 attempt on a heavily contested layup for six-straight points to push UF up a game-high 11 points.
Check out the second half of The Fastbreak…after the break.
First half focus: Florida broke out midway through the half with a 13-2 run that included three triples – two from Frazier – to take a 24-16 lead as UCLA went scoreless for four minutes. The Bruins did not stay too far down for long, scoring six-straight points to cut their deficit to three by converting a three-point play that was also Young’s second foul. UF had 11 assists on its 13 first-half baskets but went 0-for-5 from three after starting the period 5-for-8 from downtown.
Perfect plays: Subbed in for Young late in the first half, freshman forward Chris Walker made the most of his minutes. Not only did deliver a doosey of a block and show great effort on both ends of the court, Walker converted his own missed free throw into an acrobatic layup by grabbing the rebound and putting it right back up. He scored a career-high seven points and also grabbed three rebounds.
Late in the second half, Wilbekin found him stuck in the middle of the lane with nowhere to go. Rather than get flustered, Wilbekin continuously pivoted on one foot until he found a small crease and launched a tough layup, which bounced off the top of the backboard and landed in the hoop to end a short 6-2 UCLA scoring stretch.
Standout stat: The Gators matched a season-high with 22 assists, beating the Bruins at their own game. Florida also owned the boards 40-30 and shot better than UCLA both overall (.500-.422) as well as from beyond the arc (.381-.167).
What it means: Once again overcoming a difficult opponent that provided a significant test, UF improved to 7-1 under Donovan in Sweet 16 games and eliminated UCLA from the postseason for the fourth time in the last eight years. Florida improved to 4-0 all-time against its opponent from the West and is now 8-0 in neutral-site games this season.
Next up: The Gators will compete in their fourth-straight Elite Eight on Saturday when they take on the (11) Dayton Flyers in Memphis, TN