The exact moment it became clear Pittsburgh had little chance of an upset Saturday afternoon came in the midst of a game-altering Florida spurt early in the second half.
As Pittsburgh's James Robinson drove for an apparent easy transition layup, hulking Florida center Patric Young came from well behind the play to swat the ball out of bounds, punctuating the play by flexing and bellowing.
The message from Young was the same one the top-seeded Gators gave throughout their 61-45 victory over the ninth-seeded Panthers: There would be nothing easy against their defense. Pittsburgh got virtually no fast-break buckets or layups the entire game, shot only 37.3 percent from the field for the game and matched its lowest scoring output this season.
Florida's victory sends the Gators to the the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight season and the sixth time in nine years. They'll meet either fourth-seeded UCLA or 12th-seeded Stephen F. Austin next week in Memphis with, for Florida, a trip to a fourth straight Elite Eight on the line.
Pittsburgh entered Saturday's game brimming with confidence after dismantling eighth-seeded Colorado 77-48 in Thursday's opening round. But the Panthers once again proved unable to match up with the best teams in the NCAA tournament. Of Jamie Dixon's nine NCAA tournament appearances in 10 seasons at Pittsburgh, all but two have ended before the Sweet 16.
Pittsburgh had not allowed Florida separation in the first half until Scottie Wilbekin made a huge play just before halftime, burying a running 3-pointer from the top of the key at the buzzer to give the Gators a five-point lead. The Panthers had fouls to give with Florida inbounding the ball and less than four seconds left before halftime yet they were unable to grab Wilbekin before he got the shot off.
The lead ballooned in the second half as Florida continued to force Pittsburgh into turnovers and tough shots and finally began to generate buckets off the defensive stops. Young's big block was the highlight of a methodical 13-3 run that turned a three-point game into a comfortable Florida victory.
Wilbekin led Florida with 21 points, while Young had four blocks to go with seven points and eight boards.
That was enough to propel Florida into the Sweet 16 and put the Gators one victory away from a shot at redeeming themselves after three consecutive years of Elite Eight heartache.
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