Chris Chiozza didn’t mince words.
The No. 4 seed Florida Gators had just routed fifth-seeded Virginia 65-39 in Orlando’s Amway Center, using a combination of smothering defense and timely offense to advance to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
After dropping three of its final four games heading into the NCAA Tournament, Florida on Saturday finally started looking like that team that won nine straight games back in January and February.
“We’ve got our edge back,” Chiozza said.
Just how dominating was Florida’s win over Virginia?
The Gators’ defense held the Cavaliers scoreless for a 7:55 stretch. Florida scored 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting in that span, with senior Justin Leon scoring the first eight and final six points of that run.
Florida limited Virginia to its lowest first-half (17) and overall (39) point totals in an NCAA Tournament game in program history.
Florida’s 26-point margin of victory tied its largest NCAA Tournament win against a major conference opponent.
“That’s about as well as we’ve played defensively,” UF coach Mike White said. “We put a lot of it together. I’m really proud of the defensive effort, the focus, the lock-in. Especially when we got up, I don’t know, say, 16 [points], we didn’t have a drop-off.”
It has been evident over both NCAA Tournament games so far. In the win against Virginia and the 80-65 win over East Tennessee State on Thursday, Florida (26-8) has held opponents to a 35.3-percent shooting efficiency from the field and just 25.6 percent from three-point range. After holding just a one-point lead at halftime in the tournament opener against East Tennessee State, the Gators have outscored its two opponents by 40 points (112-72) in the last 60 minutes of regulation.
“We know we’re a great defensive team,” graduate transfer guard Canyon Barry said. “We just try to come out and execute our game plan.”
Offensively, Florida’s depth was on full display in the first weekend just like it was during the season. On a team that has had eight different single-game leading scorers this season, six UF players averaged at least seven points per game on Thursday and Saturday. Junior Devin Robinson led the pack with 38 points on 60-percent shooting over the two games while also corralling 18 rebounds.
“Anybody can have a hot hand,” Chiozza said. “We’re dogs. We’re shooters. If they’re open, we’re not going to worry about getting one guy a shot.”
That depth will need to be on display as the Gators continue on to New York City for its Sweet 16 matchup against eighth-seeded Wisconsin on Friday. The Badgers (27-9) advanced to the second weekend by defeating defending national champion and No. 1 overall seed Villanova 65-62 on Saturday in Buffalo.
“Hopefully we can all have a good night this next round,” Barry said, “and we can beat anyone in the country when that happens.”
But for right now, the Gators are taking a moment to enjoy the success they’ve accomplished to this point.
“It feels pretty darn good,” Barry said. “We’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and tears on the practice court and in every arena we’ve played at. To be rewarded for that, it’s a true blessing.”
THIS AND THAT
With the win over Virginia on Saturday, White has 47 wins in his first two years as Florida’s head coach, the most in SEC history for a non-Kentucky coach.