Biggest Challenges Florida Faces in NCAA Tourney Matchup vs. UCLA

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2014

Biggest Challenges Florida Faces in NCAA Tourney Matchup vs. UCLA

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    The Florida Gators will get down to the business at hand in the Sweet 16 against the UCLA Bruins.

    There are no more easy teams and no more walkover games. The Gators toyed with Albany in their opening game before they flexed their muscles and rolled past Pittsburgh.

    Florida arrives in Memphis riding a 28-game winning streak. This is the fourth straight year the Gators have reached the Sweet 16. They are 3-0 in the tournament vs. UCLA, beating them in the 2006 national championship game, the 2007 national semifinals and a 2011 round of 32 matchup.

    Head coach Billy Donovan led the Gators to each of those victories, but he knows this year's UCLA team represents a major challenge, as the Bruins have won their last five games by an average of 16.4 points and are capable of causing problems for Florida.

Gators Need Cohesive Offense

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    The Gators overwhelmed Pittsburgh 61-45 in the round of 32, but their offense had trouble hitting its stride against the Panthers.

    They struggled to find their rhythm in the first half, and their shooting was off throughout the game. The Gators connected on 25 of 58 shots overall and shot just 5-of-20 from beyond the arc. 

    While Florida has become more diversified on offense than it has been in the past, hitting the three-pointer with consistency is a big part of the offense. Guard Michael Frazier is shooting .444 on his three-pointers, having made 110 of 248 during the season, but he made just two of nine against the Panthers and never looked comfortable.

    Powerful Patric Young is a force in the middle who averages 10.9 points per game and shoots .541 from the field. He shot just 3-of-11 against Pittsburgh and missed his first five shots.

    If the Gators can get back to form on offense, they could prove to be an overwhelming opponent for the Bruins.

Dominate on the Interior

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    There's a certain intimidation factor that goes along with stepping on the court against Florida.

    For example, the Pitt Panthers came into their round of 32 game against Florida with a reputation for being a tough and physical team.

    However, by the time the game had reached the early minutes of the second half, it was clear the Panthers could not run their offense cohesively or venture into the lane because the Gators were blocking or altering shots.

    The frontcourt duo of Young and Will Yeguete has a nasty edge. Young blocked four shots against the Panthers and intimidated them throughout the game. Yeguete is also capable of intimidating opposing shooters.

    Florida combines its physical play with athleticism in a way that almost no other team can match. It needs to play with an edge against UCLA.

Contain Kyle Anderson

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    Kyle Anderson is one of the most versatile players in the tournament.

    Anderson is a 6'9" guard, but he can play four positions effectively, and the Bruins have been quite effective at finding the right matchup for him.

    Even though the Gators can be vicious on defense, they are going to have to be extra wary of Anderson. He is averaging 14.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and an eye-opening 6.3 assists.

    Anderson is especially effective in transition, and Donovan knows that the Gators can't let him get into the open court consistently or it could cause significant problems.

Give It to Scottie

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    The Gators have great depth and experience, and Donovan knows that any of his starters can become difference-makers in a big game. 

    However, guard Scottie Wilbekin is different. He is second on the Gators in scoring this year with a 13.1-ppg mark. Wilbekin wants the ball in all crucial situations. The 6'2" senior has certain linebacker characteristics that allow him to go into the lane or take the ball to the hole against bigger opponents.

    Wilbekin's toughness is often on display in the game's final five minutes. He is one of those players who can struggle for the majority of the game but not lose a bit of confidence. As a result, Donovan is always going to to have the offense go through him because he knows Wilbekin can hit the tough shots at the end of the game.

    Wilbekin averages a team-high 3.7 assists per game and excels at finding his open teammates and getting the ball to them even when he is in traffic and being guarded closely by tough defenders. 

Bench Contribution

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    The Gators win games in a variety of ways, and the performance of their bench is a huge factor.

    Ryan Finney-Smith is one of the most unique non-starters in college basketball. Most players who come off the bench will specialize in one area, such as outside shooting or getting it done on the inside. Finney-Smith has no such limitations.

    He can shoot it from beyond the arc (38 made three-pointers this season), hit the medium-range jumper and also dominate on the inside. He can also clean up the glass and start the fast break once he picks up a rebound.

    Finney-Smith is averaging 9.0 ppg and is one of the players Donovan looks to when the Gators need a spark.

    If Florida hits a lull against UCLA, Finney-Smith should put his imprint on the game.