Three Hits: Gators not satisfied with another Elite 8 berth

Michael Frazier II hit five 3-pointers and finished with 19 points as Florida reached its fourth consecutive NCAA regional final.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Overall No. 1-seed Florida is back among the Elite, but unlike the last three consecutive times, the Gators want to be in the Final Four. Florida beat UCLA 79-68 Thursday night at FedExForum to advance to Saturday’s regional final against 11-seed Dayton. Here are three observations from the game.

1. Wilbekin took over with one shot clean over a tall Travis Wear.

Scottie Wilbekin isn’t trying to prove himself. He’s proved what he’s capable of. In Thursday’s win, the senior guard hit a shot that may not get as much attention as a game-winner would, but was key in Florida pulling away from resurgent UCLA (28-9) in the final minutes.

Wilbekin scored 13 points — only three of them in the first half. The biggest two of the second half came after UCLA scored back-to-back buckets to cut a nine-point lead to 68-63. Ducking and dodging 6-foot-10 Travis Wear, Wilbekin was stuck. Then he threw up a shot that even his coach, Billy Donovan didn’t think had a chance.

"I initially thought it had no shot of going in," said Donovan. "Then the way it kind of went up towards the backboard …"

It fell and so did UCLA.

"I was just trying to get a shot up on the backboard and at least give the bigs a chance to rebound," admitted Wilbekin. "But it ended up going in."

Florida (35-2) scored seven of the next nine, including a dunk that earned Casey Prather, from nearby Jackson, a technical foul for pulling up on the rim.

Making that call was like telling Jimmy Graham he can no longer dunk the ball over the Saints’ goalpost. But Florida won’t complain. It’s moving on. The Gator was so happy, he proposed to CBS sideline reporter Rachel Nichols at midcourt.

Wilbekin is second on the team in scoring — his 13.1 a point behind Prather. But he has become the go-to guy, even when his stat sheet isn’t overflowing in numbers. He had a key five-point stretch late in the game to turn a five-point lead into a 65-55 lead.

"That’s what you expect out of you senior point guard," said UCLA point guard Kyle Anderson. "He’s been here for four years, Sweet Sixteen for four years. He made big shots."

2. UCLA got a lot of what UCLA gets, just not enough of it.

UCLA got much of what UCLA gets, even more from Wear, whose 14 points doubled his season average. Six-9 point guard Anderson and guard Jordan Adams were close to their season averages. Adams scored 17 points. Anderson had 11 points, nine rebounds and five assists.

Where they didn’t hit their mark was in assists. While Florida had 22 assists on 29 field goals, the Bruins had 12 assists. They entered the night as the fifth-best assist team in the country. Kasey Hill had 10 assists for the Gators by himself.

Missed shot, missed assists. UCLA shot 42.2 percent for the game, missing 37 of its 64 shots. The Gators shot an even 50 percent, 59.3 in the second half.

"They’re obviously very good defensively," said UCLA forward David Wear. "We were playing at a pace we wanted to play. It was just a night where we missed a lot of shots we normally hit."

A lot of those were 3s. Florida connected on as many in the second half (3) as UCLA did for the game (3-of-18).

"It just wasn’t a good shooting game. It happens. It just seemed to happen at the wrong time," said Anderson.

Florida gave up 11 more points than its nationally-ranked third average of 57.5. But the Gators also scored 79 points. Eighty would have been only the third time since the end of November.

The Gators got an elevated night from sophomore guard Michael Frazier II. After three points against Albany and 10 against Pittsburgh, he had a game-high 19, along with six boards and three assists.

The Bruins standard may be the Final Four, but Steve Alford has proved he can take UCLA to those heights.

Florida is a little more ready to climb that mountain and a good bit more experienced at this exact level.

3. Gators not enjoying the ride, not one bit.

Florida has won 29 straight games, the longest streak in school history. The Sweet Sixteen has become ho hum. Not ho hum enough to lose a game though.

"I think we’ve done a great job all year just staying in the moment and just trying to chase greatness," said Frazier. "When you do that, you know, complacency isn’t a factor."

Good thing. Dayton is an 11-seed on a mission, already with wins against Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford in Thursday’s first game.

The Flyers are on a streak of their own. The only team to beat them in 15 games is Saint Joseph’s — twice.

"They’re a good team. Everyone is at this point in the season," said Wilbekin.

Florida has Ole Miss lightning rod point guard Marshall Henderson in its corner. He was at FedExForum in a Gator shirt. He’s lost to both teams this season.

It’s guaranteed Marshall is having fun, just not Frazier.

"Me personally, I don’t feel like there’s anything to enjoy," said Frazier. "We’re trying to keep advancing and you can’t take a breath. Every team now is a good team. We can enjoy what we’ve done, after the season."