JOE BIDDLE: No. 1 Gators punch Final Four ticket

Kentucky advances to National Championship (Image 1)

It took the SEC champions to take out Dayton.

It took the No. 1 team in the polls, the overall top seed in the NCAA Tournament, to eliminate the field's final double-digit seed, a pesky Flyers team that proved they belonged.

It took the Florida Gators, under the direction and tutelage of Billy Donovan, arguably the best college basketball coach today.

Donovan had won back-to-back national championships, but those teams featured three first-round NBA draft picks in Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah and Al Horford.

This team is not projected to have a first round pick in this year's NBA draft. This team has Donovan's fingerprints all over it. It has his heart, his desire and his determination — the same characteristics Donovan used to play among the giants as an undersized guard for then Providence Coach Rick Pitino.

This team has a point guard made of steel in Scottie Wilbekin. He had his share of undisclosed problems earlier in his career. At one point last summer Wilbekin was thinking of transferring and Donovan didn't try to stop him. But Wilbekin turned his life around, told Donovan he wanted to come back to the team and the rest is history.

Wilbekin went on to be honored as the SEC Player of the Year as his Gators were ranked No. 1 in the country.

“Some of the issues that that happened during the summer was part of what brought us together as a team. Just throughout the year, the type of games that we've been in and the grind of practice. It's just really a combination of all those things bringing us together to the team that we are today,'' Wilbekin said Friday.

Wilkebin was the Gators glue in Saturday's 62-52 win that put them in the Final Four. They are now 36-2, having won 30 consecutive games. They held Dayton to 52 point, 20 points below their season average.

They don't seem to have any weaknesses, at least not to this point. They can beat you in so many ways with a balanced inside and outside offense and a stingy defense.

Donovan told them before the season that the issues they face were the soil as an analogy that they had to have a foundation.

“We tried to lay down good soil early in the season, even though things were kind of tough, guys were still locked in and buying into the system, working every day, staying in the moment,'' center Patric Young said.

“And I believe now, because of the good soil that we laid, we're starting to reap what we've sown and are allowing the whole process of sticking to it, allowing us to be successful now.''

The Gators plowed Dayton under early using a 19-3 run in the first half to go up 38-24 at halftime. But Dayton came out and hit two quick 3-pointers to slice the lead to 38-30. Patric Young's layup with 11:23 in the game put the Gators up, 53-36. It would be their largest lead of the game at 17 points.

Wilbekin logged 38 minutes. He scored 23 points, had three assists, three steals and zero turnovers. That's stuffing the stat sheet as a point guard.

Young added 12 points, grabbed six rebounds, as the Gators owned the glass, 37-26. Young also blocked four shots and had three steals.  

They broke through the barrier of having suffered three consecutive Elite Eight losses. They will meet the West Regional champion in the semifinal game in Dallas.

Until then, they will keep working the soil.

 Contact Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at

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