Orlando, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - It took until the second half, but Scottie Wilbekin and the Florida Gators played like the NCAA Tournament's top seed on Saturday en route to reaching another Sweet 16.
Wilbekin scored a game-high 21 points on an efficient 9-of-15 shooting display and Florida took control after the break in downing upset-minded Pittsburgh, 61-45, in a physical South Region slugfest.
Florida (34-2) only turned the ball over six times, committed just seven fouls and won the battle in the paint, 36-24, to earn its 28th straight win. Michael Frazier II provided 10 points, while Will Yeguete and Casey Prather chipped in with eight apiece in the victory.
The Gators' next test in their quest for a fourth consecutive Elite Eight appearance comes next Thursday against the winner of Sunday's UCLA-Stephen F. Austin matchup.
Talib Zanna led Pitt (26-10) with 10 points, while leading scorer Lamar Patterson was limited to eight on 3-of-11 shooting.
The ninth-seeded Panthers were coming off a thorough 29-point decision over Colorado on Thursday and matched Florida bucket-for-bucket in the first half before making just 35 percent (9-of-26) of their shots in the second.
"I was extremely disappointed in how we played. We're a better team than what we showed today," Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said. "We didn't execute well enough, we didn't rebound well enough, and as I told the guys, I'll take responsibility for that."
Patric Young and the Gators knew this third-round meeting was a taller task than their 67-55 victory over No. 16 Albany two days prior, and the Florida big man showed as much early on when he missed three chances at a tip-in on the game's first possession.
Young went scoreless in an opening half that featured nine lead changes and three ties. Neither side lead by more than five, and Florida took a slim 27-22 edge into the break after Wilbekin beat the buzzer with a running 3-pointer from the top of the key.
The second half played out much differently after Zanna opened the scoring with bucket off the offensive glass.
Young got things going with five points, including an alley-oop dunk off a feed from Prather, and two blocks during a 7-0 run that gave the Gators a 34-24 cushion.
A Josh Newkirk jumper ended Pitt's six-minute scoreless drought with 13:05 to play, but on the Panthers' ensuing possession, Yeguete forced a turnover near midcourt and threw a behind-the-back pass to Prather while going out of bounds that resulted in an uncontested lay-in.
Wilbekin carried the load the rest of the way, scoring 13 of Florida's 15 points during one stretch to keep the Panthers at bay.
"I thought Scottie coming down the stretch of the game...made some things happen for our team, made some great plays," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said.
The closest Pitt got over the final 10 minutes was eight.