Guard Scottie Wilbekin provided the points for Florida, but senior center Patric Young supplied the power, as the top-seeded Gators smothered No. 9-seeded Pittsburgh into submission Saturday afternoon to advance to their fourth consecutive Sweet 16 appearance.
A day after being labeled a “dirty player” by Panthers big-man Talib Zanna, Young did all the dirty work, dominating the offensive glass with six rebounds and controlling the paint with three blocks despite struggling from the field (3-for-11).
“I’m a dirty player so I played all out and scrapped and clawed and fought,” Young quipped.
The matchup — teased as a physical, WWE cage-match — materialized immediately, but Florida’s frontcourt, led by Young and senior forward Will Yeguete, neutralized the Panthers’ lauded big-man.
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“The coaches challenged us,” said Young, commenting on Florida’s uninspiring effort against Albany.
“The coaches made me watch a lot of film on Zanna and how good of a rebounder he was, and I was like, ‘The guy is no Jarnell Stokes. He’s not Kenneth Faried. If you show me film on those guys then I might be scratching my head.’ ”
Zanna finished with 10 points and six rebounds but his four fouls were two more than any other player in the game and Florida won the battle in the paint with plus-12 margin.
Meanwhile, Yeguete — hammered by injuries throughout career — played his best game in six weeks, chipping in eight points on 4-of-5 shooting while offering his usual hustle and heart.
“He’s the epitome of a guy that when you look down at the stat sheet it’s hard to have a level of appreciation for him,” UF coach Billy Donovan said.
“It’s hard to find guys that really kind of hang their hat on being kind of a dirty-work guy, and it’s hard sometimes because certainly it doesn’t really give them a lot of headlines. Will’s not a headline guy. But he really does a lot for our team.”
Young did deliver pair of banner plays though, highlighted by a vicious, volleyball spike of a faint layup attempt midway through the first half.
“I hate going for help-side blocks, but I saw it and I was like, ‘I’m all over that one. I just threw it out of the way,’ ” said an excitable Young, who stared down the CBS cameras after the block.
Wilbekin tallied 21 points, including 13 of Florida’s last 15 points, but the senior’s buzzer-beating three-pointer right before halftime changed the game’s momentum.
It should’ve never happened.
In a two-point contest with 3.5 seconds remaining in the first half, Florida inbounded the ball to Wilbekin behind halfcourt, but Pittsburgh — with two fouls to give — chose not to foul, and the guard drained a running 25-foot shot.
“It’s on me,” said Panthers coach Jamie Dixon, who accepted responsibility while implying his team was instructed to foul. “We didn’t get it done. We didn’t do what we — I didn’t get it done.”
THIS & THAT
• Donovan earned his 484 career-victory, becoming the second-winningest coach in Southeastern Conference history.
• Florida held an opponent under 50 points for the eighth time this season, while Pitt moved to 0-4 scored less than 49 points.
• NFL coaches Bill Belichick (New England) and Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh) were in attendance. Belichick is longtime friends with Donovan, who joked postgame the Patriots’ coach put together UF’s scouting report.
• The Gators forced 11 turnovers after Pitt coughed the ball up just three times in its romp over Colorado on Thursday.
• UF’s six turnovers matched a season-low.