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.