Florida's balance overwhelms UCLA


MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Scottie Wilbekin couldn't find his shot. Patric Young was out of rhythm, off-kilter, a half-step slow on rebounds and rotations. Casey Prather was unusually muted.

There were eight minutes left in Florida's fourth-straight Sweet 16 game, and the Gators' three best players -- the 2013-14 SEC Player of the Year, a center with 147 games and 3,555 minutes on his legs, and its leading scorer and surprise All-American candidate, respectively -- were flailing. Young and Prather had each picked up their fourth fouls, and were stuck on the bench. Wilbekin was 2-of-10 from the field.

Worse yet, UCLA was rolling. Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson were pushing the pace, getting easy buckets, finding open teammates, playing the same beautiful brand of offense that led UCLA to its 28 wins in Steve Alford's first season as coach. With six minutes left, Florida's lead was cut to three.

So Prather -- chugging through an off night, stuck watching from the sideline, eight minutes away from maybe ending his career -- must have been at least a little bit panicked.

"No," Prather said. "Not at all."

When the 2014 NCAA tournament's No. 1 overall seed jogged into its locker room at halftime of Thursday's 79-68 Sweet 16 win over UCLA, it had shot 43 percent from the field. Wilbekin, Prather and Young combined for eight points on 2-for-11 shooting. And it totally didn't matter.

The Gators led 36-30 at the half for precisely the same reason they were the No. 1 overall seed in the first place -- the same reason they plowed through 21 SEC regular-season and conference tournament games unbeaten, the same reason they haven't lost since Dec. 2, the same reason they were the overwhelming public favorite in the ESPN Tournament Challenge, and in the end, the same reason they weathered UCLA's run and pulled away for their 35th win of the season: because they are the deepest, most complete team in the country.

Florida is so well-rounded that its best three players, all seniors, can have their worst collective outings of the season at the worst possible time ... and no one in the building, with the possible exception of their opponents, can convince themselves the Gators might actually lose. Florida is so taut on the defensive end it can hold one of the nation's best passing offenses to 3 assists, 7 turnovers and .90 points per trip in the first half.

And Billy Donovan's team is so deep, it can get 10 assists from a freshman reserve point guard ( Kasey Hill, the fourth freshman, alongside Jason Kidd, Keith Gatlin and Magic Johnson, to record 10 assists in a Sweet 16 game); five 3-pointers from sharpshooter  Michael Frazier II (four of which were assisted by Hill); 18 points and 13 rebounds combined from Will Yeguete and Dorian Finney-Smith; and seven points in six minutes from a freshman forward ( Chris Walker) who spent the first three months of the season trying to get eligible.

Who was the difference in the game? All of them. And Donovan and his seniors are moving on to their fourth straight Elite Eight as a result.

"You could tell in the summer," Prather said. "The first pickup game we played in August, it was crazy the way we jelled, the talent we had. You knew then everybody could contribute."

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