After falling short in three prior attempts to reach the Final Four, No. 1 Florida’s senior class has successfully taken that next step.
Led by SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin, who accounted for 23 points, three assists and three steals, the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament beat No. 11 Dayton by the final score of 62-52. Florida, after making 50% of its shots in a win over No. 4 UCLA on Thursday, didn’t shoot nearly as well against the Flyers as they made 37.5% of their attempts.
However Florida limited Dayton to 39.6% shooting from the field overall and 11-for-30 inside of the arc, and that combined with their advantage on the boards (37-26) resulted in the Gators winning their 30th consecutive game. Florida rebounded 36.4% of its missed shots, and while that isn’t a dominant number there was a dominant stretch that sticks out.
In a three-plus minute (6:09 to 2:37) stretch during the second half Florida grabbed seven offensive rebounds, and while Florida’s lead was only eight (58-50) at the end of that run it sapped whatever remaining energy the Flyers had to make a late charge. Dorian Finney-Smith, whose play off the bench has been a critical component during postseason play, was responsible for three of Florida’s seven offensive boards during that stretch and finished the night with six offensive rebounds.
Florida’s four key front court players, Finney-Smith, Casey Prather, Patric Young and Will Yeguete, all grabbed six rebounds apiece as the move to a bigger rotation paid dividends on both ends of the floor. The rebounding was certainly key, but the defensive effort put forth against Dayton’s Jordan Sibert was as well.
After scoring 18 points in their win over No. 10 Stanford and averaging a team-best 12.5 points per game, Sibert missed all three of his shots from the field and was held scoreless. Wilbekin was the player responsible for defending Sibert for much of the night, and that effort was just as important as the 23 points he scored.
After reaching this point three years in a row only to fall short, Florida’s senior class has managed to take the next step. And given what this group has accomplished to this point, winning 30 games in a row and running the table in the SEC (regular and postseason), Billy Donovan’s team has what it takes to finish the run and win the program’s third national title.