Gators advance to fourth straight Sweet 16

Published on Sunday, 3/23/14, at 1:59 p.m. Eastern.

By Brian Edwards

Florida won its 28th consecutive game and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight year with Saturday’s 61-45 win over Pittsburgh as a six-point favorite. Scottie Wilbekin, the SEC Player of the Year, led the Gators to victory in Orlando with a game-high 21 points.

UF moves to the South Region semifinals in Memphis where it will face Sunday’s Stephen F. Austin-UCLA winner on Thursday night. I arrive in Memphis on Wednesday afternoon and will appear live in-studio for the Chris Vernon Show on Thursday.

Billy Donovan’s team played spectacular defense against the Panthers, who have one of the ACC’s premier scorers in Lamar Patterson. But Patterson couldn’t get anything going against the senior-laded Gators, who held him to just eight points on 3-of-11 shooting from the field.

Florida’s four seniors — Wilbekin, Will Yeguete, Patric Young and Casey Prather — have now been a part of 11 career wins in the NCAA Tournament. However, UF’s three previous teams have been unable to get to the Final Four.

In the 2011 Tournament, UF allowed a double-digit second-half lead to get away in an overtime loss to Butler. Again in 2012, the Gators led Louisville by a double-digit margin at the under-eight television timeout, but they couldn’t buy a bucket down the stretch and lost another nail-biter.

In Dallas last year, UF got run out of the arena by Michigan.

If Florida faces UCLA, the Bruins will have triple-revenge on their mind. The Gators have sent UCLA packing from the NCAA Tournament three times since 2006, when they had a dunk contest in a blowout win in the finals. The next year in Atlanta at the Ga. Dome for the national semifinals, UF collected another comfortable win over Ben Howland’s team. Then in 2011, Erving Walker took over at crunch time to help UF pull away in a hotly-contested third-round scrap.

If Florida gets to Dallas in two weeks, I’m of the belief that it will have Michigan St. waiting for it in the semifinals and would then take on Louisville in a ‘Ring Game.’

Donovan has never beaten Rick Pitino or Tom Izzo, but I think it’s going to happen in North Texas. If it does, it’ll be time for pundits to start talking about Donovan as one of the greatest coaches of all-time. He already has more career wins than Coach K had at the same age and if all of the above comes true, he would have three national titles on his resume, in addition to one runner-up finish and three trips to the Elite Eight.

We shall see…

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