Welcome back, Michael Frazier
From the opening tip, Michael Frazier II was the “X” factor Gator fans had come to rely on during the regular and postseason. After finishing 5-for-8 from behind the arc, with 19 points, six rebounds and three assists, Frazier was back – for that, fans can rejoice.
… and the Gator offense
Overall, the Gator offense shot 50 percent (29-of-58) for the game, including 59.3 percent after some strong halftime adjustments. Florida hit its first six shots – and eight of the first 10 – in the second half, including back to back three’s by Frazier. It also had one of the greatest Hail Mary shots ever launched in March to seal the win. Throw in 22 assists, the bench coming alive for 23 points, and shooting 38% overall from long range, and the Gators were in business on offense.
Free-throws on the money
When researching for this story, I literally had to stop and wonder if this stat was correct: the Gators were an astoundingly efficient 72% from the free throw line against UCLA. Whether it was the opponent, the Sweet 16 stage, or the Memphis water – Florida hit the shots from the charity strip needed to win the game. Every player that went to the line (except Patric Young – who had a rough night overall) made at least one of their free-throws. The Gators’ success in this run through the tournament hinges on efficiency from the foul line.
Controlling the tempo
In the first half it looked like UCLA was both walking the Memphis Marathon and controlling tempo by only being down 6 at the break. After that, though, Florida controlled the pace – as it’s done all season. UCLA had an eye-popping 23 transition points against the vaunted Gator defense in the first 30 minutes, but were held scoreless in the final 10 minutes of the game. Pretty good adjustment there by Coach Billy D, I’d say.
Last year, Dunk City came to an end at the hands of the Gator Nation. This year, No. 11 seed Dayton is “flying high” into the Elite Eight. Dayton’s offense is quite potent – especially in defeating former No. 1 Syracuse. I hadn’t seen Dayton play this year (as many people hadn’t), so like any good sports fan I watched highlights of their season. Against Syracuse, they effectively worked around and neutralized the Orange’s typically stout 2-3 zone. They also benefitted from Syracuse not hitting a single three-point shot for the first time in over 650 games – something that cannot happen for the Gators. If Florida can repeat history and quash this year’s Cinderella, then they will avenge three straight years of Elite Eight losses (2011 to Butler, 2012 to Louisville, and 2013 to Michigan) and punch their first ticket to the Final Four since 2007.
The Gators were flat against Albany in the opening round of play. The Gators were dominant defensively against Pittsburgh in the round of 32. And the Gators were scrappy and strong behind the arc against UCLA last night. Yes, the win streak stands at 29, but that number hides a key word: consistency. Rarely do you find a team greater on defense … minus that near-collapse against Kentucky in the SEC Tournament Championship. Rarely do you find a better sharpshooter than Frazier … minus his first two games in the NCAA tournament. Rarely does Patric Young get into foul trouble … minus the game versus UCLA. This Gator team is great – one of (if not the best) to play basketball under the Florida banner. Taking the SEC regular season, being undefeated at home, winning the SEC tournament, sweeping Kentucky and Tennessee, and claiming the SEC Coach and Player of the Year awards were huge. But, in my opinion, playing a consistent game – start to finish – is third to last on the list of “must-do’s” this season (behind advancing to the Final Four and cutting down the nets in Dallas).