Texas Tech, Florida match up in second round

Might as well forget about the seeds when Texas Tech faces Florida in the NCAA Tournament round of 32 on Saturday at American Airlines Center in Dallas.

There's not much to separate the third-seeded Red Raiders and the sixth-seeded Gators. Both finished the regular season in the top 25 and clawed their way near the top of their highly-rated conferences.

Texas Tech tied for second in the Big 12 and Florida finished third in the SEC.

Both Texas Tech and Florida are led by senior point guards, albeit with different styles.

Keenan Evans leads the Red Raiders in scoring at 17.7 points per game and has shown the ability to put the team on his back down the stretch in close games.

Chris Chiozza averages 11.1 points for the Gators, but he prefers to set up his teammates as he ranks in the nation's top 20 with 6.2 assists per game.

The Gators (21-12) have a significant advantage in NCAA Tournament experience as they reached the Elite Eight last season and they're just four years removed from playing in the championship game.

But the Gators will be challenging the Red Raiders (25-9) in Texas. On Thursday, Texas Tech fans showed up in droves to help their team rally to defeat Stephen F. Austin. It's a good bet those red-and-black-clad fans will be back in the arena on Saturday.

"Yeah, we know it's going to be hostile, a lot like we've played in neutral site games, a lot of those have been like road games to us, especially early in the season when we played Gonzaga in Portland," Chiozza said. "We're just going to come out and focus on our game plan, focus on us, and whatever the coaches tell us, they're going to have us prepared as well as we can be."

Florida opened the tournament in a good groove and rolled past St. Bonaventure on Thursday.

Gators guard KeVaughn Allen hit a 3-pointer and Chiozza had a fast-break assist and two layups as Florida opened the second half on a 9-0 run to extend its lead to 14 points. The Gators didn't let the Bonnies come within double digits for the final 18 minutes of action.

Conversely, Texas Tech had a 40-minute battle with No. 14 seed Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks led by as many as eight points early in the second half and stayed in front or tied until Texas Tech finished the game on a 13-2 run in the final four minutes.

Evans scored 19 of his game-high 23 points in the second half, taking the lead as the Red Raiders came on strong at the end.

"That's something we've been working on for two years," second-year Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. "'Finish' was our motto. Last year when our season ended sooner than any of us would have wanted, we regrouped, and we just decided that the thing has got to be finished because we were so close last year."

The X-factor for Texas Tech could be freshman Zhaire Smith and his ability to excite Red Raiders fans in Dallas. Smith lit up social media and highlight shows by completing a 360 dunk on an ally-oop pass from Evans in the win over the Lumberjacks.