Scottie Wilbekin finished with 21 points on 9-for-15 shooting, hitting clutch shot after clutch shot down the stretch, as the South’s top seed, Florida, knocked off No. 9 seed Pitt, 61-45, to become the first team officially in the Sweet 16.
The Gators will take on the winner of tomorrow night’s game between No. 4 UCLA and No. 12 Stephen F. Austin.
If you were looking for a blueprint for what makes Florida so dangerous, you got it on Saturday. The Gators were downright menacing defensively, particularly at the start of the first half. Pitt shot just 37.1% from the floor, scored all of 45 points and hit 4-for-17 from beyond the arc on a night where the Gators committed just seven fouls the entire game.
Playing stifling defense without committing fouls is not an easy thing to do.
On the other side of the floor, the Gators struggled a bit early on, but they finally got into a rhythm in the second half. Florida committed six turnovers in the game and didn’t commit one in the second half until they dribbled out the shot clock up 16 on their final possession of the game. And as has been the case all season long, the difference-maker down the stretch was Wilbekin, who hit a series of ridiculously tough runners to keep the Panthers at bay. There may not be a player in the country that is as good as Wilbekin with the ball in his hands in crunch time, and I have the feeling that, at some point in the later rounds, that’s going to save the Gators.
But here’s what’s scary: think about what Florida can be if they start hitting their jump shots. On Saturday, the Gators were just 5-for-20 from beyond the arc. On Thursday, they shot just 3-for-12 from deep.
It’s not like they don’t have shooters. Michael Frazier II is as good as anyone in the country. Wilbekin can hit threes. Dorian Finney-Smith is streaky, but he can hit four or five in a given night when he gets it rolling.
Florida is as good as anyone in the country when their shots aren’t dropping.
When they are, they’re near-unbeatable.
As an aside, this is the fourth straight season that the Gators have made the Sweet 16. Patrick Young, Will Yeguete, Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather have all reached the Sweet 16 in every year they’re been in college. They’ve actually reached three Elite 8s as well, but they’ve never made the Final Four.
Is this the year they break that barrier?