5 Things We Learned from Florida's Win over UCLA
The Florida Gators faced a strong opponent in the UCLA Bruins Thursday night, and Billy Donovan's team had some difficult moments.
But Florida was able to take every punch the Bruins threw, and they countered with their own much more effective blows and knocked UCLA out of the tournament with a 79-68 victory. Florida advanced to the Elite Eight and a meeting with the surprising Dayton Flyers.
The Gators have so many strengths and play such a versatile game that they often use a different formula for winning in each game they play. That was, once again, the case against UCLA, as Florida stretched their winning streak to 29 games with the win.
Here are five things we learned from the Gators' victory.
Michael Frazier Can Carry the Scoring Load
Michael Frazier II has been the Gators' leading scorer this season, averaging 13.7 points per game coming into their Sweet 16 matchup.
However, Frazier gets most of his points in the flow of Florida's offense, and his teammates are not necessarily going to look to him and ask him to carry the load. That was not the case against UCLA, because Frazier was on top of his game and he was feeling it whenever he had the ball in his hands and had a clean look at the basket.
Frazier led the Gators with 19 points, as he made 7-of-13 shots from the field, including 5-of-8 from beyond the arc. Frazier had been unable to get himself going in Florida's round-of-32 victory over Pittsburgh (10 points, 3-of-10 shooting), but he stepped up in this game.
His ability to hit shots any time UCLA mounted a challenge was a big reason why the Gators were able to hold onto the lead throughout and claim victory in the final moments.
Gators Know How to Finish
The Gators are rolling, as few teams ever do in college basketball. Their 29-game winning streak is reminiscent of an older era in college basketball, when teams with gaudy records would come rolling into the tournament and then pick up the hardware.
When a team is on such an impressive winning streak, it often expects opponents to merely roll over at some point or another. It's not a matter of fighting hard for 40 minutes and coming out with the win. Instead, it's often surrender and capitulation at one point or another in the second half.
Give UCLA credit, because the Bruins never gave up. They kept firing haymakers at the Gators, and Florida never winced. The Bruins knew that Jordan Adams (17 points) and Travis Wear (14 points) were having an impact and hurting the Gators, but Florida kept responding.
If the Gators were just bullies, they would have wondered what was going on when UCLA responded, but Frazier, Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Dorian Finney-Smith proved formidable at the game's biggest moments, and that's why Florida is moving on.
Wilbekin's Leadership Should Not Be Questioned
It's difficult to see Florida not making it to the Final Four or the NCAA championship game because they have great depth and leadership.
This is a senior-laden team, and Billy Donovan can look up and down his lineup and knows he has players capable of producing excellent stat lines. However, when the game comes down to its most crucial moments, Donovan is looking at senior guard Scottie Wilbekin.
Whatever the reason, Wilbekin simply produces when the game is on the line. He projects an aura that says "I am better than you, and you will not stop me." He then goes out and proves it.
Wilbekin triggered a 10-0 second-half run against the Bruins by hitting a three-pointer and then driving by Norman Powell and hitting a tough shot over 6'10" Travis Wear, even though he was fouled. He made the free throw to finish the three-point play.
While UCLA would respond with another run, Wilbekin would slam the door closed when he hit a turnaround corkscrew shot over Wear.
“Just trying to keep attacking, stay aggressive,” Wilbekin told Gene Frenette of The Florida Times-Union. “My shots weren’t falling in the first half. I just tried to stay the course and keep playing my game.”
That's something the Gators can count on every game.
While the Gators were impressive with their defensive play, athleticism and hustle in their round-of-32 victory over Pittsburgh, their offensive play was ordinary in that 61-45 victory.
The Gators shot 43.1 percent from the field in making 25-of-58 FG attempts, and they were a sorrowful 5-of-20 from beyond the arc. The offense was unimpressive against the Panthers.
That was not the case against UCLA. The Gators stepped up on the offensive end and demonstrated their class against a solid opponent. The Gators made 29-of-58 shots from the field and 8-of-21 shots from beyond the arc. That 38.1 shooting percentage on three-point attempts forced the Bruins to extend their defense and leave themselves vulnerable to drives and sharp passing.
The Gators had a credible performance from the line, making 13-of-18 free throws. That has been a weakness for Donovan's team this season, so he had to be pleased to see his players knocking down important free throws.
Gators' Bench Players Come to Play
The Gators can beat opponents in so many different ways. It almost seems unfair that Donovan can look to his bench to get the job done as well.
But he knows that's another advantage that can prove decisive. The Florida bench outscored the UCLA reserves 23-11, and that's one of the keys to Florida's victory.
Dorian Finney-Smith is the most valuable of the bench mob, and he scored 10 points and added six rebounds. Smith can score inside and can also take it beyond the arc and go on a hot streak in any game. Chris Walker had seven points in six minutes of action, while Kasey Hill had six points and 10 assists in his 28 minutes of action.
Florida's bench players are athletic, tough and consistently effective.