Final-ly! Gators Break Through Against Dayton to Reach Fifth Final Four

It’s over.

Three years of Elite Eight failures, and the heartache, misery, tears and anguish that came with them, are nothing but history now. And while they’re at it, maybe this team has a little more- and better piece of- history they’d like to write.

Scottie Wilbekin scored 23, Patric Young added 12 and Michael Frazier chipped in ten of his own. The Gators didn’t get much more help than that, but with the way their defense played, combined with the alarming rate (for Dayton) at which the Flyers turned the ball over, that was plenty.

There wasn’t really a key to this win, and I’m not going to waste 500 words leading you onto one. The fact of the matter is that Florida was simply a much better team than Dayton in every aspect of the game. That means more physical, faster, mentally tougher and hungrier. There was not a single advantage the Flyers had over Florida, and the closest one they thought they had- Jordan Sibert vs. Scottie Wilbekin- turned out to be an advantage for Florida.

Dayton had no answer for the slashing of Kasey Hill, Casey Prather or Wilbekin. They couldn’t stop Young and Yeguette down low. And they couldn’t defend the perimeter at all, meaning Florida dragged their defense all around the court, wore them down- and then punished them late in the shot clock with an easy bucket after one of their tired defenders broke down and busted his assignment.

That all adds up to Florida 62, and Dayton 52- and the Gators’ first Final Four berth since 2007, and their fifth overall.

In order for the Flyers to beat Florida, they had to play their best, and Florida had to play their worst. I don’t think either team played at the extreme ends of those respective spectrums, but I do think that Dayton played pretty well, and Florida didn’t play very well, and the end result wound up being a double digit victory for Florida. Dayton went 8-18 from three point land- almost 50%, which is ridiculous- but couldn’t score from anywhere else (11-30 from inside the arc), which was to be expected since the Gators easily outsized them down low.

Despite the clear mismatches, the outcome of the game was totally unclear until the Gators launched a 19-3 run to end the first half, capped by a Wilbekin three. Dayton would chip away at the lead, albeit not without some help from Florida, cutting it down to as close as eight with two minutes remaining. Even though I did get a little nervous- how could I not with the ghosts of Butler, Louisville and Michigan still lurking?- I never got too worried, because hey- Florida has Scottie Wilbekin, who’s put more games on ice than most math majors can count. And just like he’s done several times this year, including Thursday against UCLA, Wilbekin put the game away with four free throws in the final minute.

I’m not sure the Gators have played their best basketball throughout the tournament- more on that during the week. But for now, we can rest easy knowing that the Gators did enough to make the Final Four, following the blueprint they laid out during the regular season. It’s not pretty, it’s not sexy, it’s not flashy. But it gets the job done and wins games.

There’s plenty more coverage of this game, plus a look ahead to the Gators’ matchup with Connecticut (which tips at 6:10pm EST on Saturday on TBS) and potential championship game opponents Kentucky and Wisconsin, coming up this week. For now, sit back and celebrate the fact that Florida finally broke through.

11 thoughts on “Final-ly! Gators Break Through Against Dayton to Reach Fifth Final Four

  1. WHAT THE FUCK TOOK YOU SO LONG TO WRITE THIS?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

    I was not the least bit worried about this game- until it started. I just couldn’t stop thinking about the past three chokes in the Elite Eight, and towards the end, holy fuck, I couldn’t breathe. I have never in my life been nervous about an 8 point lead with a minute and a half to go, but I just so clearly remember blowing double digit leads against Butler and Louisville and I was certain it would happen again.

    But it didn’t, and you know what? I think this team cured me of my negativity. I have learned, with either one or two games remaining for the rest of time, to finally trust this team late in games- even when they do not play particularly well.

    1. LMAO! I can relate. Those past 3 Elite 8 games started to creep into my head as well. Wasn’t a very comfortable feeling.

      1. Both you guys shared my premonition. When Florida started to go cold late, even with an eight point lead… oh, GOD was I a nervous wreck. I flashed back to those three games as well, especially Butler because it was the most relevant. I was literally about to vomit, I was so scared of what might happen.

        But all’s well that ends well!

      1. If you want to go there, then you need to go back a few more years even, and say “negativity is for 2008-2013. Those teams were losers.”

        But I don’t quite agree that making the Elite 8 labels a team as a “loser”. They didn’t lose more games than they won, which is my lone criteria for handing out that stigma, and they did technically finish somewhere between 5th and 8th in the country in each of the last three seasons. Though I will agree that they had a penchant for choking and not finishing.

  2. Not so sure the Gators have played their best basketball of the tournament, either. Or have they? Four games, four double digit wins. Maybe simply winning games constitutes playing good basketball for this team? Because it’s all that matters. It may not be the prettiest thing to watch, but it sure is pretty to check out wikipedia after the game and see Florida’s updated virtual trophy case

    1. You do have a point, but nobody could argue that the Gators have played their most fundamentally sound, best x’s and o’s basketball in the tournament, with the possible exception of the UCLA game.

  3. Whoever made that one for the thumb picture that’s now circulating on twitter is a genius, and perhaps the king of Gator Swag. I feel like maybe you should have used that image as the feature, though the one you have of Scottie is admittedly pretty boss.

    1. That was me. I made that 🙂

      Though I don’t really think that’s a good image to put as the featured image for a post on the site itself. If I’m being completely honest with you, that’s just putting out for twitter, getting some RTs and some new followers, and building a reputation as the perfect blend between having major Gator swag and being a legitimate website with solid content. Putting the picture of Scottie holding his hands up seems more appropriate for the article’s featured image.

  4. First time logging in for a couple weeks. Damn, I’ve missed a lot. Gators are Final Four bound. Woo!

    Neil, other than Shabazz Napier, do you fear any UConn player in particular? Do you think anybody other than Shabazz can cause the Gators trouble? Because all I’m hearing is Napier this, Shabazz that. That’s on the media for taking UConn’s darling superstar and turning him into the second coming of Jesus Christ. But I want your opinion. Don’t the Huskies have anybody else who Florida should be concerned about?

    1. Welcome back.

      I fear Niels Giffey if I had to pinpoint one guy. Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels are certainly respectable players as well, and can hurt Florida if the Gators play anything less than lockdown defense. But Giffey is kind of reminiscent of Erik Murphy in a sense- if he heats up, watch out. He’s also shooting an insane 49.1% from three point land this year, which dwarfs Michael Frazier’s 44.8%. That’s the difference between him and Murphy- he’s on more than Murphy ever was.

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