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No. 1 Florida earns first Final Four berth since 2007

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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.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.

VIDEO: New Mexico loses game on blown call by officials

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Nothing like a nice, controversial finish to get the blood flowing.

New Mexico was on the receiving end of a rule misinterpretation on Saturday afternoon, and that interpretation likely cost the Lobos a win over San Diego State and, arguably, a shot at the MWC regular season title.

Here’s the situation: New Mexico is up by three with 12 seconds left and the ball under their own basket. Their allowed to run the baseline, so Craig Neal calls a play where the inbounder throws the ball to a player running out of bounds.

Totally league as long as the player establishes out of bounds before touching the ball. The referee rules that he doesn’t.

Here’s the video:

The problem?

According to the rules, Xavier Adams — the player receiving the pass from Cullen Neal — only needed one foot on the floor out of bounds in order to establish himself as an inbounder that was able to catch that ball. He got one foot down (see the picture above), but the referees appeared to rule that he needed to have both feet down.

That was incorrect, according to the Mountain West office.

“While this was a very close judgment call made at full speed, it has been determined after careful review of slow-motion video replays the call was in fact incorrect,” the league said in a release. “The New Mexico player did get one foot down (two feet are not required) out-of-bounds before receiving the ball, thus establishing his location in accordance NCAA Basketball Playing Rules 4.23.1.a and 7.1.1.  By rule, the officials were not permitted to go to the monitor during the game to review this play.”

And here’s the kicker: When SDSU got the ball back, they hit a three to send the game into overtime, where the Aztecs won. But if New Mexico had won this game, they’d be sitting at 8-2 in MWC play, one game behind SDSU in the loss column with a return game against them in The Pit.

Instead, they’re now three games back with seven to play, meaning that the race is effectively over.

It’s tough to blame the referees here — it was a bang-bang call that is only clear in slow-motion replay — but man, that’s a big call to miss.