MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Florida Gators are first yet again this season.
Scottie Wilbekin scored 14 of his 23 points in the first half, and Florida became the first team to advance to the Final Four with a 62-52 win Saturday night over the 11th-seeded Dayton Flyers in the South Region final.
The Gators reached their fifth Final Four after losing at this point in each of the past three NCAA tournaments. This time, they came in as the country’s top-ranked team and the overall No. 1 seed.
Florida won its 30th straight game and improved to 36-2, topping the 35 wins by the 2007 national championship squad.
Patric Young scored 12 points, and Michael Frazier II added 10 for Florida. The Gators will play either UConn or Michigan State in Arlington, Texas, in the national semifinal.
Dyshawn Pierre of Whitby, Ont., led the Flyers (26-11) with 18 points. Devin Oliver added 12 points.
Dayton came in trying to become only the fourth 11 seed to advance to the Final Four. The Flyers had upset Ohio State and Syracuse in reaching their first regional final since 1984. They missed their second Final Four and first since 1967 with Florida holding them to their lowest scoring game this season.
The Flyers outshot Florida 39.6 per cent (19 of 48) to 37.5 per cent (18 of 48), but the Gators outrebounded them 37-26. They also had a massive edge at the free throw line (21 of 28) compared to Dayton (6 of 8).
Florida finished the first half on a 15-1 run to take the lead for good, going up 38-24. The Flyers opened the second half with two quick 3s to pull within eight, only to watch the Gators push their lead to 17 with 11:35 left on a layup by Young.
The Flyers kept coming but couldn’t get closer than eight in the second half, the last at 58-50 as the Gators went cold down the stretch, once missing five shots on one possession.
Dayton missed chances to cut the lead as Oliver missed a 3-pointer with 2:07 left, then Scoochie Smith threw it away trying to pass out to Matt Kavanaugh.
Then Wilbekin ended the Gators’ scoring drought at 4:39 with a pair of free throws, and he hit four of six at the line to finish the game.
Dayton took over the FedExForum so thoroughly that the Gators were booed when they came out for warm-ups and pre-game introductions. Archie Miller tried to use his deep bench, using 10 Flyers trying to wear out the Gators with sheer numbers. Florida coach Billy Donovan nearly matched Dayton by going nine deep himself.
The Gators went cold for nearly 6 minutes between a dunk by Casey Prather with 11:55 left and a baseline drive by Frazier with 6:00 to go. The Flyers scored eight straight when Scoochie Smith’s 3 gave them their first lead of the game at 21-19 with 6:58 remaining.
Kendall Pollard’s layup tied up Florida for the last time at 23, then Dorian Finney-Smith hit a free throw with 4:22 left putting the Gators ahead to stay.
As Florida went on its run, Dayton missed its final five shots. Finney-Smith grabbed a rebound of a missed 3 by Frazier and threw the ball back out so the Gators could finish the half by taking the last shot. Wilbekin then beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer that helped quiet the Flyers’ faithful for the first time all day.
BADGERS 64, WILDCATS 63
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Every big shot Wisconsin needed, Frank Kaminsky hit.
The 7-footer carried Wisconsin to the Final Four with 28 points, including six in overtime, as the Badgers defeated Arizona 64-63 in a physical West Region final Saturday night.
Kaminsky had 11 rebounds and scored from inside and outside, including three 3-pointers, for the No. 2 seed Badgers (30-7). It’s Wisconsin’s first Final Four appearance since 2000, and first for 69-year-old coach Bo Ryan, who earned his 704th career victory.
“We want a national championship now,” Kaminsky said. “We have made it to the opportunity to get there, so why not go get it?”
Ryan had a long tradition of attending the Final Four as a spectator with his father, who died in August.
“Today would have been my dad’s 90th birthday,” he said. “I just thought I’d throw that in.”
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers joined the locker room celebration, telling the Badgers he’d been following them all season.
Kaminsky proved the only reliable scorer on a night when the rest of the Badgers disappeared offensively. Sam Dekker was 2 for 5, Ben Brust went 2 for 7, Traevon Jackson was 4 of 14 and Nigel Hayes was 2 of 8.
“Their big guy really had a great game,” Arizona’s Nick Johnson said. “He raised his level.”
Johnson had the ball with a chance to win, but he missed a shot that launched just after the buzzer for Arizona (33-5), the top-seeded team that has yet to win a West Region final in Anaheim in four tries. Johnson led the Wildcats with 16 points, and Aaron Gordon had 18 rebounds in the relentlessly physical game.
It was the record-tying seventh OT game of this year’s tournament.
Johnson stood with his hands on his hips, staring straight ahead, while Kaminsky and the rest of the Badgers rushed to celebrate.
“I wish I would have taken one less dribble, get the shot off, give us a little chance,” Johnson said.
Jackson added 10 points for the Badgers, and Kaminsky was chosen as most outstanding player of the West Region, part of a breakout season for the junior with the deadpan sense of humour.
“They tell me he’s funnier that he used to be, and his eyes are more wide open now,” Ryan said. “If you see him sitting sometimes you think, ‘Oh, look, Frank’s asleep.’ He’s not asleep. But he’s got that sleepy look.”
Kaleb Tarczewski scored 12 points and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had 10 points for the Wildcats, who were trying to get coach Sean Miller to the Final Four for his first time. Instead, Miller was sent to the sidelines on the same day his younger brother Archie’s Dayton Flyers lost to Florida in the South Region final.
“When you lose, it’s like a car crashes,” Miller said. “It’s just — you’re done.”
The first 40 minutes were a back-and-forth struggle between the only 1-2 seeds remaining in the regionals, with neither team leading by more than three points over the final 12:09 of regulation.
Overtime was even more dramatic, with Arizona having an answer for just about everything Wisconsin did.
Brust hit a 3-pointer to put the Badgers up at the start of the extra session; Gordon answered with a 3 to tie it up again at 57. Kaminsky scored inside and Gordon dunked at the other end for another tie.
Kaminsky’s jumper and a free throw by Josh Gasser gave Wisconsin a 62-59 lead. Tarczewski’s two free throws and Jordin Mayes’ tip-in drew the Wildcats to 64-63 with 58 seconds left.
T. J. McConnell’s jumper missed, but Arizona got the offensive rebound and found Johnson, who missed and got called for the push-off on Gasser with 3 seconds left.
“I thought it was a really, really tough call,” Miller said. “I’m going to stop there. I’ve already been fined.”
Wisconsin inbounded on the baseline, and a scramble ensued in front of Arizona’s bench with 2 seconds left. The initial call gave the ball to the Badgers. The referees viewed replays for several minutes before deciding Wisconsin touched the ball last.
“It was the longest minutes of my life,” Hayes said.
Ryan said, “Mainly we spent most of it knowing that it wasn’t going to be our ball.”
That call set up the final play, with Pac-12 player of the year Johnson unable to bail out the Wildcats.
“I knew he wasn’t going to pass it with only two seconds on the clock,” Gasser said. “It was a good battle out there, and fortunately, he didn’t make a play there.”