So much of top-ranked Florida’s season has been defined by how the Gators have responded to adversity. On several occasions, with its back against the wall, Florida showed it deserved a No. 1 seed. That notion proved true again in the Gators’ 79-68 win over 4-seed UCLA on Thursday, a win that clinched Florida's spot in the Elite Eight for the fourth straight year.
The Gators looked vulnerable down the stretch against the Bruins, but Florida responded and managed to survive and advance. Both teams slugged through the early goings of the first half until the Gators staged a 15-4 run that seemingly broke open the game. That run came courtesy of early foul trouble on UCLA point guard Kyle Anderson.
But on numerous occasions, the Bruins fought back. They rallied to within six points, 36-30, at the half despite Florida’s well-oiled machine recording 13 assists on 15 made baskets. After a Chris Walker layup gave the Gators a 50-39 lead in the second half -- its biggest of the night up to that point -- UCLA climbed back to within four points with just more than 13 minutes to play. The Bruins even cut it to one point on a Norman Powell layup with 10 minutes left.
Still, just as Florida has done all season long, it survived. Despite Patric Young and Casey Prather being saddled with four fouls apiece midway through the second half, Florida responded to a one-point game with a 7-0 run that made the score 63-55. The Gators stiff-armed the Bruins from there, and Scottie Wilbekin's wild layup at the 2:34 point proved this was truly Florida's night.
Coach Billy Donovan's crew has now won 29 straight games and looks as dangerous as ever on both ends of the floor. The Gators' defense held a normally potent UCLA offense (82 points per game) to 69 in the win; and Anderson, the team's lanky point guard, scored just 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting. On offense, Wilbekin and company notched 22 assists on the night. That teamwork will now go up against a Dayton squad in the Elite Eight that also thrives on balance. Florida could be on the path to a national title, but first these Gators will have to take down Cinderella.
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