No. 1 Florida ousts Pitt, 61-45, in NCAA third round
ORLANDO, Fla. — Don't blame Pitt if the Panthers saw a reflection of themselves, circa 2009, in top-ranked and No. 1 seed Florida.
Not only do the Gators start four seniors, one a dead ringer for DeJuan Blair, but Billy Donovan built this team on the same principles of physicality, defense and rebounding that define Jamie Dixon's teams.
The Gators scored their 28th consecutive victory by beating the Panthers at their own game, 61-45, on Saturday in an NCAA South Region third-round game before a crowd of 18,512 at Amway Center.
Florida (34-2) beat Pitt the way the Panthers used to defeat opponents, by holding them to 37.3 percent shooting (19 of 51), controlling the boards 38-31 and outscoring them in the paint 36-24.
“We lost to a very good team, so take nothing away from Florida,” Dixon said. “They're good, and there's a reason why they're the No. 1 seed: the most physical, oldest team we've played all year.
“And they showed it.”
Florida is headed to the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive season, where it will play the Stephen F. Austin-UCLA winner Thursday in Memphis, Tenn.
Pitt (26-10) was trying to reach the Sweet 16 for the sixth time in 13 years but the first since Blair led the top-seeded Panthers to the Elite Eight in 2009.
“It was a good team. I liked everything we had. The pieces were there,” said fifth-year senior swingman Lamar Patterson, who had eight points, eight rebounds and four assists. “We just didn't get it done, rebounding and stuff like that. They got the boards and loose balls.”
While Pitt lost because of Florida's physicality, rebounding and defense, it was mostly because the Panthers once agains had no answer for a point guard named Scottie. Where Villanova's Scottie Reynolds sank the shot to prevent Pitt from reaching the Final Four in '09, Florida's Scottie Wilbekin scored a game-high 21 points, including the Gators' final four baskets.
Despite a 6:30 scoring drought that saw Pitt's 15-13 lead evaporate, the Panthers were within two points of Florida after Mike Young's baseline jumper with 8.7 seconds left in the first half.
With three fouls to give, Dixon put in redshirt freshman Chris Jones to foul Wilbekin with four seconds left. But, on the ensuing inbounds, Wilbekin caught Jones flat-footed and sped past him and other defenders to sink a running 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 27-22 halftime lead.
“That was a huge play for Scottie, when he hit a shot like that going into halftime,” Wright said. “You know he was feeling amazing and ready to play the next half, and he went out and showed it. I wouldn't say it affected us too much. A five-point deficit with 20 minutes on the clock isn't a huge margin at all. We still had opportunities to win the game.”
While the Panthers were able to break Florida's full-court press, it affected the rhythm of their offense. The Gators had 10 steals and scored 16 points off turnovers.
“I felt we did a good job handling their press, but once we got the ball across half court we couldn't get in the flow,” Pitt sophomore point guard James Robinson said. “We took a couple bad shots, and they turned them into easy buckets.”
Cameron Wright was 3 of 10 for seven points, and Patterson was 3 of 11 from the field, 1 of 7 from 3-point range. Pitt was 4 of 17 (23.5 percent) from 3-point range. Florida was only slightly better, making 9 of 20 3-pointers as sharpshooter Michael Frazier II was 2 of 9.
“We kind of dodged a bullet with him on some shots,” Donovan said. “He didn't shoot it particularly well, and probably he and Frazier offset themselves because I thought both of those guys on the floor were the two best shooters, and neither one of them had a great shooting game.”
Pitt endured another scoreless stretch, this one lasting 6:22, and Florida used a 7-0 run to take a 34-24 lead on center Patric Young's thunderous dunk on an alley-oop from Casey Prather.
Wilbekin had 13 second-half points, giving Florida a 45-31 lead on a 3-pointer with 8:23 to play. After Talib Zanna cut it to 49-41, Wilbekin sliced through Pitt's defense to score the Gators' final four baskets.
It was the most disappointing loss in a season that saw the Panthers lose at the buzzer to top-ranked Syracuse and No. 1 seed Virginia, that saw them suffer a double-digit defeat at home to Duke and another heartbreaking loss to Virginia in the ACC Tournament.
Perhaps, if only because a win would have been the biggest in school history and these Panthers believed they were better than their record and No. 9 seeding indicates.
“We had an opportunity to do some big things with the team that we had this year, and I don't think we ever got to the point that we thought we were all capable of getting to,” Robinson said. “We had a good team this year, but when it counted most, we just didn't get it done as a team.”