GAME NOTES: The NCAA Tournament's top overall seed will try to continue their trek through the South Region on Saturday when the Florida Gators take on the ninth-seeded Pittsburgh Panthers in the third round at the Amway Center.
Pittsburgh dominated its second round matchup with Colorado with a 77-48 triumph, the second-largest margin of victory of Thursday's action behind only Wisconsin's drudging of American (75-35) and the most lopsided victory ever in an NCAA Tournament 8-9 matchup. The Panthers are now winners of four of their last five games to improve to 26-9.
Florida (33-2) wasn't quite as dominant as a No. 1 overall seed is expected to be in its opening game of the tournament against a No. 16 seed, but it was still able to piece together a solid 67-55 victory over Albany to extend its program-record winning streak to 27 games. The Gators have advanced to the Round of 32 in four straight seasons, moving on to the Sweet 16 in each of the previous three years.
Pittsburgh has a 4-2 advantage over Florida in the all-time series, but the latest meeting (1992) came prior to Bill Donovan's tenure as head coach of the Gators.
The Panthers set the tone early against Colorado by scoring the game's first 13 points less than six minutes into the game and their lead was double digits from that point forward, as they shot 50.8 percent from the field, while holding the Buffaloes to only 35.7 percent shooting. Talib Zanna was nearly flawless on his way to 18 points, shooting 6-of-7 from the field and 6-of-6 at the foul line. Cameron Wright added 11 points, Lamar Patterson scored 10 and James Robinson handed out eight assists.
While Pitt's offense has been far from explosive this season, it has still been largely impressive, scoring 72.6 ppg on 46.3 percent shooting. The biggest reason for its success has been the stout play of its defense, as it allows only 61.9 ppg on 41.1 percent shooting while boasting a +2.1 turnover margin. Patterson is one of the nation's best swingmen, posting 17.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.3 apg and 1.4 spg. Zanna patrols the paint with 13.1 ppg (on 58.3 percent from the field) and 8.6 rpg, and Wright brings 10.6 ppg to the table.
The Gators suffered a bit of a scare when Albany tied the score at 39 with 14:32 to play, but they quickly put an end to any threat by ripping off a 12-2 run to create separation. They finished the contest shooting 51.0 percent from the field, while holding Albany to less than 40 percent shooting, but they allowed the Great Danes to hang around by making only 3-of-12 from 3-point range. Casey Prather and Dorian Finney-Smith led the way with 16 points apiece, Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill poured in 10 points apiece and Patric Young tallied a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Florida too has been defined by its outstanding defense, as it holds opponents to just 39.9 percent field-goal shooting for 57.9 ppg, with the latter ranking third-best in the nation. Prather is the top scoring threat with 14.2 ppg, doing so on a lofty 60.9 percent efficiency from the floor. Wilbekin puts up 12.9 ppg and 3.8 apg and earned the SEC Player of the Year. Wilbekin also found a spot on the league's All-Defensive Team alongside Patric Young (11.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg). Michael Frazier (12.6 ppg) has drained 108 3-pointers at a 45.2 percent clip and Finney-Smith adds 9.1 ppg and 6.6 rpg to the mix.
Pittsburgh's defense should be able to keep Florida's offensive playmakers in check and thus keep the game relatively close throughout. However, the Panthers lack the offensive explosion to penetrate the Gators' relentless defensive attack. It might not occur in the flashiest of ways, but expect Florida to continue on to the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight year.
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