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March 28, 2014
Notebook: Gators advance to fourth straight Elite 8
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Scottie Wilbekin has faced plenty of adversity throughout his career. A 1-of-7 first half wasn't about to faze Florida's weathered senior point guard.
"My shots weren't falling and I just tried to stay the course and keep playing my game," Wilbekin said.
With the Gators clinging to a one-point lead late in the second half Thursday night, top-seeded Florida's finisher found his Super Mario power-up star in the nick of time to send the Gators back to the Elite Eight.
Florida topped fourth-seeded UCLA 79-68 at the FedEx Forum in a closer-than-the-final-score indicates, as Wilbekin scored eight points during a 10-0 Gators run late that sunk that Bruins' upset hopes.
"It's the funnest to play in those types of games," said Wilbekin, who scored 13 points in the seesaw affair.
Added UF coach Billy Donovan: "Certain guys -- for whatever reason -- feel comfortable in those situations. Scottie is one of those guys."
Wilbekin drained a 3-pointer, hit a running layup for a and-one but it was a his whirling bank-shot heave in traffic that saved the Gators.
"I initially thought it had no chance of going in," Donovan said.
Yet it did and in the end Florida -- winners of 29th straight -- ended UCLA's season, again.
For the fourth time since 2006, the Gators knocked the Bruins out of the NCAA Tournament, overcoming foul trouble, turnovers and spotty defensive rebounding.
Now, Florida again sits on the doorstep of the Final Four and must beat Cinderella story Dayton, an 11th-seed, on Saturday night (6:09 p.m., CBS).
"I've never been to the Final Four, and we've got a chance to be the best team in Florida history," senior center Patric Young said.
"We've got an opportunity to win a National Championship. What more motivation do you need?"
But Florida's seniors -- aside from forward Will Yeguete -- nearly forfeited that opportunity, as the 'Core Four' struggled for the majority of the game.
Young was a non-factor, finishing with as many points (4) as fouls (4), while Casey Prather had an unhappy homecoming until a pair of easy dunks to end the night.
But as has happened all season, Wilbekin took over and the Gators survived.
Wilbkein won the battle of the dueling point guards, as Kyle Anderson was plagued by foul trouble and frustrated by constant double teams.
Anderson, who announced his intentions to enter the NBA Draft after the game, finished with 11 points, nine boards, five assists and two steals but he was hardly the matchup nightmare teased by many.
Instead, it was Wilbkin who gave UCLA fits with his quick, slithery penetration and clutch shot-making.
"That's what you expect out of your senior point guard," Anderson said. "He's been to four Sweet 16's, he made big shots. Credit to him."
While Wilbekin's George Lopez "I GOT THIS" spurt deservedly steals the headlines, the Gators prevailed together thanks to execution and resolve.
"It was a great team effort at different points in time," Donovan said. "Some different guys stepped up and helped the win."
FRAZIER FINDS STROKE
While UF's seniors labored for large stretches Thursday night, its sweet-shooting sophomore managed to keep the team afloat before Wilbekin took over.
UF's sophomore sniper Michael Frazier II rediscovered his silky-smooth stroke, drilling five 3-poiners to help keep UF's dream season alive.
Last weekend, Frazier, who scored a game-high 19 points, said he needed to leave Orlando's Amway Arena simply to see some different rims.
He was right.
After scoring 13 points total -- on 4-for-15 shooting -- in two games in Orlando, Frazier drained three treys in the game's first 20 minutes to lead all scorers at halftime with nine points.
"Coach pulled me aside today in shoot-around and told me to shoot with confidence," Frazier said. "That's all I tried to do tonight. Take good ones and they were just able to fall." It was only a matter of time before the nation's ninth-best 3-point shooter (45 percent) caught fire, and it proved large against UCLA's high-octane attack.
Florida's motion offense gashed UCLA's leaky zone early, as the Gators found Frazier for several open looks in the first half.
But Frazier wasn't cooled off by intermission.
The Bruins opened the second half on a quick 5-0 sprint, yet Frazier immediately answered UCLA's momentum wave with two straight triples to silence the run.
In the process, the sophomore topped Lee Humphrey's record for most treys in a single season in school history (115).
Frazier made five treys for the ninth time this year and also chipped in six rebounds and three assists to cap a complete effort.
SHARING THE BALL
UCLA -- lauded for its unselfishness -- entered the showdown No. 5 nationally in assists, but it was Florida who consistently shared the ball for open looks Thursday night.
The Gators tied a season-high with 22 assists, including 10 dimes by freshman point guard Kasey Hill.
According to ESPN Stats Inc., Hill became just the fourth freshman EVER to record 10 (or more) assists in a Sweet 16 game, joining NBA legends Magic Johnson (1978) and Jason Kidd (1993) as well as Keith Gatlin (1984).
It was a phenomenal performance by Hill, especially considering pressure, as the rookie stuffed the stat-sheet with six points, six rebounds along with his career-high 10 assists.
"He played great tonight," Wilbekin said. "It's great to watch him develop. He's always been able to do that. He does it in practice all the time. It's great to see it translate to the game."
Collectively, Florida assisted on its first nine baskets.
Meanwhile, UCLA -- which owned an impressive 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio as a team this season -- finished with just a dozen dimes on 27 made field goals.
"We moved the ball well," Donovan said. "I thought the biggest thing for us was in the first half UCLA only had three assists and seven turnovers. ... I don't know if it was our defense or maybe they didn't have the ball movement they wanted, but that was a factor in the first half of us have a six-point lead."
FAMOUS ALUMNI IN THE HOUSE
The South Regional Semifinals was a star-studded affair, as several prominent alumni from Florida, UCLA, Stanford and Dayton were in attendance Thursday night.
Former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow was in the house, as were Cardinal alumnus Condoleezza Rice, the former Secretary of State, and cornerback Richard Sherman of the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks.
Alabama head coach Anthony Grant, a former guard at Dayton and assistant coach at Florida, cheered on both the Flyers and Gators.
In a random sighting, Marshall Henderson, Mississippi's mercurial senior shooting guard, also attended the Sweet 16, rooting for the Gators while wearing a blue Florida T-shirt.
THIS & THAT
Donovan moved to 7-1 all-time in Sweet 16 games. ... Freshman forward Chris Walker, who Donovan praised for his patience and positive attitude Wednesday, delivered his most complete performance of his career, finishing with seven points, three boards and one vicious block off the bench. The McDonald's All-American showcased his electric athleticism on a play where his grabbed his own miss at the free throw line for a nifty put-back. ... UCLA moved to 3-7 this season when scoring under 75 points. ... Young and Wilbekin played in their 15th career NCAA Tournament game Thursday; tying former Gators guard Lee Humphrey and forward Chris Richards for the most in school history.