This group that has done so well for Florida this season and in the past isn’t unfamiliar with being in the final eight of College Basketball. The 79-68 win over UCLA? Nothing but routine, mostly thanks to a big shooting night from Michael Frazier. But this time, the expectations from everyone are a lot higher.
The Bruins, with Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams were probably a bigger issue than previous teams for the Gators, but not as much as they’d hope to be. Anderson couldn’t get anything done near the Florida basket, getting smothered by double teams whenever he got near the paint. He did finish with 11 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists but that was something Florida could live with as long as he didn’t get other players involved. Jordan Adams scored his 17 points but couldn’t get anything from beyond the arc (1-of-5 for three). Again, Florida could live with that.
Excellent defensive work from a group of seniors that’s been here three times in the past, hoping to win in the regional final for the first time. Billy Donovan hasn’t taken a team into the Final Four since the 2006-2007 championship days. There’s a feeling that he might not have a bunch that is as talented as the one from seven years ago, but the combination he has found and cultivated over these years, giving him a smart unit that defends almost like no other team in the country, is the right formula to make it further than in previous years.
Frazier hit five 3-pointers en route to 19 points. Florida looked good on half court sets, while UCLA, at least early on, tried to make it about running and transition. They had 23 transition points in the first 30 minutes but was held scoreless on the break in the final 10 minutes. Meanwhile, Florida shot 50% from the field, grabbed 10 offensive rebounds and got big contributions from their bench, while UCLA had almost nothing to offer when it came to their subs.
Dorian Finney-Smith scored 10 points to go with 6 rebounds and 4 assists and Kasey Hill added 6 points, 6 rebounds and 10 assists. The Florida frontcount combined to score only 24 points, but their job was to make things hard for Anderson whenever he was beating Wilbekin to the basket. Points in this game weren’t the most important thing.
It was a rough night from Scottie Wilbekin. Guarding a 6’9 guard like Kyle Anderson isn’t easy, but at some point offense started coming through for him. It wasn’t very pretty, with a lot of hustle and grinding, but he did finish with 13 points, giving up on his 3-point attempts which didn’t go all that well for most of the night.
A decade of losses to Florida continues, although last time it was on a bigger stage. The Bruins are on their way up after something of a drought in terms of success and even national coverage. For Florida, this season is the coming together of talent, experience and the intelligence that comes with it, which should be able to take them over the hurdle they’ve been running into the last three years.