The (1) Florida Gators (36-2) advanced to the Final Four for the first time since 2007 with a 62-52 victory Saturday evening over the (11) Dayton Flyers (26-11) in the Elite Eight of the 2014 NCAA Tournament at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, TN.
After three-straight losses in this round over the last three seasons, Florida advanced to the Final Four for the fifth time in school history and extended their winning streak to a school-record 30 games with victories in 35 of its last 36 contests. The Gators’ 36 wins also set a school record for most in a single season.
OnlyGators.com breaks it all down with nine quick-hitters:
It was over when: The buzzer sounded. A tremendous effort from Dayton took Florida to the limit despite the fact that the Gators never led by fewer than eight points in the second half. The Flyers kept the game close by hitting 8-of-18 three pointers and taking the ball to the hoop in the second half when UF shut down UD from beyond the arc.
Prominent players: Seniors point guard Scottie Wilbekin and center Patric Young each had phenomenal games for the Gators. Wilbekin finished just 6-for-14 but hit 3-of-5 threes and 8-of-10 free throws on his way to a game-high and career-high-tying 23 points. Young was equally as dominant, scoring 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, hitting 2-of-3 attempts from the charity stripe and grabbing six boards, four blocks and two steals.
Significant stretch: A couple minutes after seeing its lead cut to eight points following back-to-back three-pointers for Dayton in the first 51 seconds of the second half, Florida went off on a 13-4 scoring stretch to increase its advantage to a game-high 17 points with 11:27 left to play. UF never lost a double-digit lead over the duration of the contest.
Check out the second half of The Fastbreak…after the break.
First half focus: Florida opened up the game by handing Dayton what (at that time) was its largest deficit of the tournament (five points) just 2:13 into the contest and increased its lead to six early in the half. The Flyers, however, responded with an 11-2 run – which included three of four wide open three-pointers they made in the first 20 minutes – to take its first lead of the game at 21-19 with seven minutes until the break. The Gators would not be denied, ending the first half with a 14-point lead thanks to a 19-3 scoring stretch including two triples of its own – on sophomore guard Michael Frazier II’s first attempt of the game and a Wilbekin buzzer-beater to send the teams into the locker room. Wilbekin scored 11 points on the 19-3 run including the final five of the half.
Perfect play: Attempting to get a two-for-one before the end of the first half, Frazier threw up a three-pointer that was missed but rebounded by redshirt sophomore Dorian Finney-Smith. With a second chance to score prior to the break, Wilbekin dribbled out the clock before rising for his second halftime buzzer-beating triple of the tournament.
Bench benefit: Finney-Smith missed all four of his field goal attempts and each of his three tries from beyond the arc but nevertheless played dominant basketball off the bench for Florida, grabbing a game-high nine boards (six offensive), dishing two assists and hitting 5-of-6 free throws.
Standout stats: The Gators made a concerted effort to take the ball to the rack and get freebies at the charity stripe. More importantly, Florida converted when it got there, hitting 21-of-28 free throws while its opponent hit six on just eight tries. UF also dominated on the glass, outrebounding UD 37-26 and 12-5 offensively.
What it means: Now off the schnide following three-straight Elite Eight failures, the Gators will advance to play in the Final Four for the first time since 2007.
Next up: Florida will await its Final Four opponent – either (4) Michigan State or (7) UConn – while getting an early look at both teams, which square off on Sunday.
The Gators will either face the Spartans (which defeated them for the 2000 national title) or the Huskies (one of two teams that beat UF this season) next Saturday at a yet-to-be-announced time.