The West Region’s No. 7-seed Florida Gators (24-10) shut down the No. 10-seed Virginia Cavaliers (22-10) in the second half of their second-round game on Friday afternoon in Omaha, NE, pulling away for an impressive 71-45 victory and advancing to the third round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
Florida hit 80 percent of their shots from inside the arc and was led by 14 points each from sophomore guard/forward Casey Prather and freshman G Bradley Beal. Prather’s total was a career-high and came in the flow of the game as he played quality defense and did his best to limit the effectiveness of Virginia F Mike Scott.
The Gators outscored the Cavaliers 41-23 over the final 20 minutes and outrebounded the lower seed 36-21 and 9-2 on the offensive glass.
Virginia opened up with the early advantage, outscoring Florida 10-2 as UF coughed the ball up four times. Despite struggling from downtown by starting 0-for-13 from three-point range, the Gators used a 9-0 run to take a 22-18 lead with 5:04 remaining in the first half and ended the first 20 minutes on an 8-2 run to hold an eight-point lead at the break.
The Cavaliers also struggled from long distance in the opening half, going 0-for-7 from beyond the arc. However, Florida was much more efficient from inside the three-point line, hitting 11-of-15 shots and outrebounding Virginia 21-13 (7-1 offensively).
A pair of threes by Virginia guard Sammy Zeglinski cut Florida’s lead to six, but UF responded with an explosive 17-2 run including five points each from Prather and Beal to take a 21-point lead, 53-32 with 9:16 to play.
At the end of a possession defended nicely by UVA, Young found Beal wide open on the wing for a dagger three. Beal then added a mid-range jumper under a minute later to help put the game out of reach.
The Gators extended their advantage to 26 points thanks to another layup by Prather with 4:55 remaining. He also added an explosive dunk on an alley-oop by Walker with 2:37 left to finish the contest with a career-high 14 points.
Florida nearly doubled up Virginia over the final 23:50 of the game, playing excellent defense outscoring the lower seed 49-25
In addition to helping Prather lead the way with 14 points each, Beal registered his sixth double-double of the season with a game-high 11 rebounds. Young had seven boards and scored 13 points on perfect 6-of-6 shooting. Walker and junior G Kenny Boynton combined for 17 points while going 6-for-18 from the field and 0-for-7 from downtown.
“I’m so proud of him,” head coach Billy Donovan said of Prather after the game. “People don’t realize this. A lot of the time when young players go through adversity and they don’t get to play a lot, they have a tendency to pout and not work hard. If there’s anybody that deserves success, it’s him.
“Since he’s been a freshman, every time – whether he’s played 20 minutes or two minutes or not even gotten in the game – he’s the first guy in the gym. He’s always working to get better. I told him if anybody deserves success, it’s him. Obviously on such a big stage, I’m so proud of him and so happy for him for just staying the course and believing in himself.”
Prather saw 22 minutes of action and spent most of it covering Scott, who he held to 15 points and six rebounds. Scott averaged 18.1 and 8.4, respectively, over the course of the season and had scored 23, 35 and 28 points over the Cavaliers’ last three contests.
The Gators will advance to third-round action on Sunday but must wait to learn who their opponent will be. No. 2-seed Missouri and No. 15-seed Norfolk State will go head-to-head at 4:40 p.m. with the winner taking on Florida in two days.
Photo Credit: Nati Harnik/Associated Press