Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin made his share of shots during Saturday’s 62-52 victory over Dayton that sealed the Gators’ first Final Four berth since 2007.
Wilbekin buried six shots from the field and eight from the foul line while matching his career high with 23 points. But none resonated as loudly as his walk-off 3-pointer that capped a 15-1 run at the end of the first half and sent the Gators to the locker room with a 38-24 lead.
“That deflated them a little bit and inflated us,” said Florida center Patric Young, referring to the exclamation point in the Gators’ game-turning stretch.
“It was a big shot. It gave us a bigger lead,” Wilbekin said. “But I don’t think it demoralized them. They came back ready to play and fought through the whole 40 minutes.”
Dayton coach Archie Miller considered Wilbekin’s shot significant because it came at the end of the Gators’ pivotal run.
“Unfortunately, we were bad in a couple of spots,” Miller said. “A lot of it had to do with Florida. That’s a very, very good team.”
Florida will play either Connecticut or Michigan State in next week’s semifinal game at the Final Four in Arlington. If the Gators (36-2) meet Connecticut, it would give Florida a chance to achieve payback from one of its two losses this season. UConn defeated Florida 65-64 during the regular season at UConn.
Florida and Dayton each landed two players on the All-South Regional team. The Gators’ Wilbekin, who had a game-high 23 points and three assists Saturday, was selected as the Most Outstanding Player and joined teammate Michael Frazier, the Gators’ shooting guard, on the squad. Dayton forwards Devin Oliver and Dyshawn Pierce made the squad, along with Stanford forward Dwight Powell.
Leaving a legacy
Dayton coach Archie Miller said he was proud of his team’s run to the Elite Eight, the first by the Flyers in 30 years. Dayton, the No. 11 seed in the South Regional, finished its season 26-11. The Flyers were the lone double-digit seed to advance to the Elite Eight.
“It’s always hard to lose the last game of the season,” Miller said. “But in the back of my mind, I’m not sure a team in the nation probably captured more people’s hearts than these guys did. And they did it the right way.”
Florida will head to Arlington for next week’s Final Four with a 30-game winning streak, longest in program history. The Gators, a defensive-oriented team, held Dayton to 39.6 percent shooting and won the battle of the boards 37-26.
But Gators coach Billy Donovan said improvement is possible before Florida arrives in JerryWorld, where last year’s season ended with a 79-59 loss to Michigan in an Elite Eight matchup.
“I think there are things that we can adjust and we can get better at,” Donovan said. “There’s always parts of your game that you look at as a team that you didn’t do as well as you would have liked.”
In particular, Donovan expressed displeasure that the Gators made only five second-half field goals while shooting 23.8 percent from the floor (5 of 21).