University of Florida

Florida Gators banked on defense to reach Sweet 16

Michael Frazier II is ready to see some different rims.

Florida’s sophomore shooting guard, the nation’s ninth-best three-point threat at 45.2 percent, was just 4 of 15 in two games at Amway Arena and couldn’t wait to head home.

“At this point I’m happy to get out this gym,” Frazier said Saturday after the top-seeded Gators defeated ninth-seeded Pittsburgh to advance to their fourth consecutive Sweet 16.

“That’s the name of the game, though. Some shots are going to go in. Some aren’t. I took good shots. I can’t control whether the ball goes in or not because if I could, every shot would go in.”

They didn’t go in Saturday, but the Gators managed to survive.

They will face fourth-seeded UCLA on Thursday in Memphis. The Bruins beat 12th-seeded Stephen F. Austin 77-60 on Sunday.

Aside from senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who willed the Gators to victory with 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting, Florida couldn’t buy a bucket against the Panthers’ stingy halfcourt defense.

The rest of the team combined to shoot a ghastly 16 for 43 (37 percent) from the field, as Wilbekin was UF’s sole offensive catalyst.

“Shots weren’t falling, but we just stayed focused on the defensive side because we know that’s something we can control,” senior center Patric Young said.

“We can control good energy, communicating, being in the right spots. It was just there [Saturday].”

The “it’’ being Florida’s frenzied, relentless defense, which suffocated the Panthers into an even worse shooting afternoon.

The Gators’ unrelenting press forced 10 steals, as Florida — which missed plenty of wide-open shots — didn’t let its struggles on one end of the floor affect its effort or intensity.

“Frazier goes 2 for 9 from the three-point line, and I thought we had very, very good looks,” coach Billy Donovan explained.

“Our frontcourt, I thought Patric and [Dorian Finney-Smith] in particular really had some decent shots. Patric just couldn’t finish around the basket, but we overcame that, and I thought our defense in particular, both halves it was good, but I thought in the second half it really, really good.”

Frazier, who drilled 12 three-pointers in the Southeastern Conference tournament and is just three three-pointers shy of tying Lee Humphrey’s school-record of 113, knew this weekend wasn’t his time so he concentrated on clamping down defensively and deferred to the Gators’ hot hand: Wilbekin, the SEC Player of the Year.

“When you have a guy like that, you just give him the ball and move out of his way,” said Frazier, after Wilbekin scored 13 of Florida’s final 15 points.

“He was hot. He gave us an offensive boost. We really needed it.”

The Gators certainly did, but Florida will need its sophomore sniper to discover his stroke if it’s going to advance past the Sweet 16.

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