Rushed Reactions: #1 Florida 79, #4 UCLA 68

Posted by David Changas (@dchangas) on March 27th, 2014

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David Changas (@dchangas) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent. He filed this report after #1 Florida’s 79-68 win over #4 UCLA. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Scottie Wilbekin came up big when it counted most against UCLA. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Scottie Wilbekin came up big when it counted most against UCLA. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Wilbekin Comes Through. Though he struggled for much of the night, when it mattered senior all-American Scottie Wilbekin came through for Florida. Wilbekin shot only 5-of-13 on the night, but finished with several huge buckets down the stretch and showed why he was the SEC Player of the Year. Wilbekin’s ability to lead his team to wins in close games is the difference between this year’s Florida team and last year’s Elite Eight squad. And if coach Billy Donovan has his way, he’ll be a main reason this team takes the next step.
  2. Michael Frazier can Shoot. For whatever reason, UCLA let the Gators’ best shooter have open looks all evening. Frazier made five of the eight threes he attempted, but the ones that didn’t go in were wide open looks. He finished with a game-high 19 points. Earlier this season, Frazier set a Florida record with 11 threes made against South Carolina, and if the sharpshooting sophomore can continue to make shots from the perimeter, it will be tough for anyone to beat the Gators the rest of the way.
  3. Gators Dominate the Glass. Despite a relatively poor first half performance that saw Florida get only three points from Wilbekin and nothing from senior center Patric Young, the Gators led by six at the break. This was largely due to keeping UCLA off the boards, particularly on the offensive end. In fact, UCLA had only one offensive rebound in the half, and it was followed immediately by a Florida block. On the night, the Gators out-rebounded UCLA, 40-30, and gave up only eight offensive boards to the Bruins for the game. It allowed Florida to move on despite getting very little offense from Young and his frontcourt mates.

Star of the Game. Scottie Wilbekin, Florida. Though he didn’t have his best offensive stuff, the senior made the difference down the stretch. While this honor easily could have gone to Frazier, given all that Wilbekin does on both ends of the floor, it’s unlikely Florida moves on without his performance. 

Quotable. “I was just trying to stay aggressive and take what they gave me. My shots weren’t falling, but I just tried to stay the course.” — Scottie Wilbekin, on his first half struggles and what he did to fight through them.

Sights and Sounds. The environment at FedEx Forum was decidedly less lively than in the first game of the night between Stanford and Dayton. Florida was relatively well-represented, though the Gators’ fan base doesn’t travel well. And though UCLA fans had a better showing than their Pac-12 counterpart did earlier in the night, not too many came from the West Coast to cheer on the Bruins. We will also note that if these teams were seeded based on the quality of the cheer/dance squads, this would have been a battle of No. 1 seeds.

Wildcard. The win puts Florida in the Elite Eight for the fourth consecutive season, and the seventh time in Billy Donovan’s career.

What’s Next? Florida can’t be surprised to be moving on to the Elite Eight, but it’s likely that no one expected the Gators’ foe to be No. 11 seed Dayton. While Florida clearly will be favored to move on to its first Final Four since the 2007 championship season, it certainly won’t take the Flyers lightly. Still, the Gators are well-positioned to finally break through and get to Dallas.

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