University of Florida

MSG ‘miracle’ has Florida on brink of Final Four

Florida guard Chris Chiozza (11) puts up a last second 3-point shot to score the game-winning points against Wisconsin in overtime of an East Regional semifinal game of the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 25, 2017, in New York. Florida won 84-83.
Florida guard Chris Chiozza (11) puts up a last second 3-point shot to score the game-winning points against Wisconsin in overtime of an East Regional semifinal game of the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 25, 2017, in New York. Florida won 84-83. AP

He had worked the math out in his head.

With four seconds left, Florida guard Chris Chiozza figured he had enough time to take the inbounds pass, dribble four times down the court — “maybe more with my speed” — and get off a shot.

If it goes in, the Gators win and move on in the NCAA Tournament.

Miss and they go home.

Chiozza had visualized this very moment all his life, from the time he practiced alone in his driveway. Only now he was at Madison Square Garden with the game on the line and the whole world watching.

“In the driveway when you’re a kid, you dribble the clock down and try to take that last-second shot,” he said. “You probably miss more than you make. But every time you hit that one, it feels good, even with nobody around.”

Chiozza didn’t miss the biggest shot of his life.

His clutch three-pointer as time expired gave the Gators a pulsating 84-83 overtime win over Wisconsin and moved them into an Elite Eight showdown on Sunday (2:20 p.m., CBS) against South Carolina. The winner heads to the Final Four.

“I don’t think it’s going to hit me for a while,” Chiozza said.

Thanks to Chiozza, the Gators pulled off a stunner late Friday night. The tabloid headlines in New York screamed “Holy Shot!” and “Miracle!” and “Gators stun Badgers with buzzer-beater in MSG classic” in their Saturday morning editions.

It was the first buzzer-beater for UF in the tournament since Mike Miller’s falling floater in the lane took out Butler in 2000. Chiozza averaged seven points per game this season while making 31 percent of his three-point attempts.

The odds were stacked against him Friday.

Florida had already blown a 12-point lead with  5 1/2 minutes left in regulation, allowing Wisconsin to send the game into overtime on Zak Showalter’s three-pointer with three seconds left.

Then in overtime they overcame a four-point deficit with 41 seconds left when Canyon Barry sank a pair of underhanded free throws and Chiozza scored on a layup.

But when Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes went to the line with four seconds left and the score tied, the situation looked dire for Florida. UF was out of timeouts — no time to huddle and set up a play.

“First, I told everybody to box out,” were Chiozza’s instructions to his teammates. “[Hayes] had missed a couple of free throws. They all came off long. He had been struggling from the line.”

Chiozza next told Barry to look for him on the inbounds if Hayes made the second free throw.

“I told Canyon just try to get it to me on the run,” Chiozza said.

Hayes made both and the next four seconds became a blur.

Chiozza took the inbounds pass from Barry and dribbled once toward the left sideline. In order to get around Hayes and past midcourt, he dribbled three more times.

“Right before my fourth dribble — when I was at halfcourt — I kind of glanced up at the clock and saw I had a little bit less than two seconds,” Chiozza said. “So I knew I had another dribble and had time to get my feet set.”

Chiozza was in full stride, his body going forward, when he took off from just outside the arc and released the ball. He didn’t like the looks of it.

“It looked like there’s no way it’s going in,” Chiozza said. “When I watch it, it just looks like I lost the ball going up.”

The horn sounded as the ball was still several feet from the basket. It swished.

“When you get that chance to do it in March Madness, in front of all these people at Madison Square Garden, it makes it that much better, almost unreal,” he said.

Chiozza and the Gators didn’t have a lot of time to digest it all. There will be time for that later.

“We’ll go back and celebrate the wins and mourn the losses, and go back and watch Chris’ shot a million times in the spring,” UF coach Mike White said. “But right now it’s about the Gamecocks.”

All thanks to five dribbles and a desperation basket in four seconds.

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