This article was written by Courtney Smith, our Hail Florida Hail correspondent in Memphis. Smiths write for our Memphis Tigers affiliate, Paw of the Tiger. You can follow him on Twitter, @KoolAidKid1990.
The No. 1 seeded Florida Gators (36-2) were one win away from a trip to Dallas, TX to play in the 2014 Final Four. Before the celebration could get started, the Gators were in a dogfight against Cinderella team of the Atlantic 10 Dayton Flyers (26-11).
Both teams were led by seniors, but it was the Gators who had the last laugh as their fans were outnumbered by the fans of Dayton. With senior guard Scottie Wilbekin scoring 23 points, Florida can now book a flight to North Texas after their 62-52 win over Dayton.
“Congrats to Florida. 36-2 is 36-2. That’s a very, very good team. To be on the same floor with them, you know, was really a big-time feeling for everyone in our program,” coach Miller said. “They do it the right way, and Coach Donovan’s first class all the way. So congratulations to them.”
In the opening minutes of the game, both teams were trading as the score was knotted at seven at the 14:55 mark. The Gators would use a 10-3 run that started with freshman guard Kasey Hill drilling in two free throws.
The Flyers would get things firing on offense with a three by senior forward Devin Oliver and two made buckets from the line by sophomore forward Dyshawn Pierre to cut the Gators lead to one (19-18). On the Flyers next possession, freshman guard Scoochie Smith would knock down the three ball to give Dayton the 21-19 lead with 6:58 remaining in the half.
For the remainder of the half, the Gators went on a 17-3 run to go into halftime with a 38-24 lead. Wilbekin nailed a three as the buzzer sounded off, but that wasn’t the play that coach Donovan had drawn up.
“I had a play on that I was trying to bring somebody to him to set a high pick-and-roll. It’s kind of a little bit kind of a slip screen and it opens up the floor a bit,” coach Donovan said.
“Obviously, like any play, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I think he liked the matchup, and he said, Coach, can we go flat, which is put four along the baseline and move guys underneath the basket and offensive rebound. I trust Scottie enough to put him in those situations.
He felt more comfortable just with the floor spaced to not bring help to the basketball. And, obviously, it was a big shot going into the half because it put us up 14.”
Wilbekin was the high man for the Gators with nine points. As a team, the Gators shot 48.1 percent (13-of-27) from the field.
Gators defense smothered Dayton’s offense and forced them into ugly shot decisions. They went 8-of-26 (30.8 percent) from the field.
In the second half, it was all Florida. They held a double digit for the most part but the Flyers would find a way to cut their lead to single digits. With under four minutes left, Florida led by eight (58-50) after Pierre’s made layup.
But the Gators quickly capitalized off of Dayton’s late surge with key free throws down the stretch by Wilbekin that sealed a trip to Texas for the Gators and eliminated the Flyers from the NCAA tournament.
“The first thing that came to my mind, I was just in disbelief. It still hasn’t hit me that we’re going to be one of the Final Four teams in the country still playing for an opportunity at the championship,” senior center Patric Young said.
“Beginning of the year, you always set your goal to make it here, especially last year when we ended in the same position, but we were the other team.
It was kind of weird because I’m so used to walking into my locker room after the final buzzer. It was all just a shock and surprise and just gratitude.”
Besides Wilbekin’s 23 points, two other Gators scored in double figures: Young (12) and Michael Frazier (10).
Florida will play the winner of Michigan St./UConn in next week’s Final Four.