The Florida Gators turned what appeared to be a competitive game on paper to a blowout that emphatically booked their trip to the Sweet 16 with a 65-39 win over Virginia in the NCAA tournament's second round from the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.
The 39 points allowed is the fewest the Gators have ever given up in a tournament game, per Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times:
Virginia's smothering defense made it a tough out all season. Turns out, you also have to be able to score baskets to advance in the tournament, and that was the Cavaliers' undoing.
Jerry Ratcliffe of the Daily Progress summed up the offensive woes for Virginia:
London Perrantes carried the Virginia offense all season, but he simply had one of his worst games against the Gators. He and Marial Shayok had a sharp downturn from Round 1 to Round 2, per Wolf Gohlke of NBC29:
Perrantes finished the game with just six points on just 2-of-11 shooting.
Meanwhile, the Gators turned things up as the game went on the offensive end of the floor. Virginia had no answer for Justin Leon or Devin Robinson, and the Gators turned in an efficient performance against one of the best defenses in college basketball.
Leon was a big factor with his three-point shooting. He got the run started in the first half and helped carry it into the second half as Virginia had no answer for him going 3-of-6 from beyond the arc:
Robinson and Leon both contributed double-doubles. Robinson had 14 points and 11 rebounds, while Leon put up 14 and 10.
GatorSports.com's Kevin Brockway recognized Florida's success in the half court:
With the game getting out of Virginia's control, Tony Bennett starting catching some heat. The Cardinal Connect's Nick Coffey wondered aloud why Bennett would be mentioned for any of the big job openings that might be available right now:
Meanwhile Mark Titus of The Ringer wondered if the poor performance was because Bennett's mind was elsewhere:
With both teams coming into the game in the top five nationally in defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com, this was always going to be a physical game. As Chris Dachille of WBAL noted, the referees showed early on they were going to allow both teams to play:
Attempting to match up with the Gators, Virginia opted to give 6'9" freshman Mamadi Diakite his first start of the season. The move might have helped the defense initially, but the offense was no better.
The Cavs shot an atrocious 8-of-27 from the field in the first half.
Virginia's defense was stout early. Jack Salt led the way for the Hoos in the first half with four points, six rebounds rebounds and a monstrous block:
But the Gators were the ones who were able to find some semblance of offensive rhythm. They went on a 13-0 run to end the first half punctuated by a corner three from Leon, who led the team in scoring in the first 20 minutes with eight:
Leon and Robinson were the difference-makers for the Gators in the first half, scoring 15 of their 31 first-half points.
Charles Barkley speculated that the Cavs would need to tinker with their lineups to fix the offense in the second half:
Despite Bennett's trotting out four- and five-guard lineups throughout the second half, the buckets wouldn't come for Virginia, and now it'll have the offseason to try to improve its offense.
The Gators will now look to book a trip to the Elite Eight against the No. 8 seed Wisconsin Badgers, who were big winners on Saturday by upending No. 1 seed Villanova.
It isn't often that a team has the offensive success that the Gators had against a defense like Virginia's. Florida head coach Mike White knew early that his team was feeling it, though.
"Probably about 10 minutes in I thought we settled in a little bit," White said, per Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports. "Probably in conjunction with settling in defensively, getting some stops, getting out in transition a little bit."
Robinson was a big part of that defensive effort for the Gators. He took the opportunity in the spotlight to be frank about his transformation into a defensive difference-maker, per Rush the Court:
Even in a blowout, Virginia guard Kyle Guy reminded fans of just how emotional this tournament can be, per the Richmond Times-Dispatch's Mike Barber:
Jon Solomon of CBSSports.com noted that this loss should lead to changes for Virginia head coach Tony Bennett:
At this point, it's clear the Cavs offense has to get better before Virginia can become a true threat in March.