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Tuesday, Sep 16, 2014
Colleges

Florida faces familiar foe in UCLA

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Published:   |   Updated: March 24, 2014 at 10:26 AM

After an unpredictable, whacky, roller-coaster opening weekend for the NCAA tournament, Sunday night’s results finally provided some semblance of order.

If the Florida Gators win the program’s third national championship in men’s basketball, they must subdue the UCLA Bruins.

Again.

When Billy Donovan’s Gators won back-to-back national titles, they defeated UCLA in the 2006 title game at Indianapolis, then again turned back the Bruins in the 2007 national semifinals at Atlanta.

That pivotal matchup has been restored. The No. 1-seeded Gators (34-2), winners of 28 consecutive games, face the No. 4 Bruins (28-8) in Thursday night’s South Region semifinals at Memphis, Tenn. UCLA advanced Sunday night with a 77-60 third-round victory against upstart No. 12 Stephen F. Austin.

“We respect everyone we play,” Gators senior center Patric Young said. “But our attitude is we’ve got to just keep doing what we do. Just keep playing hard and playing together. If we do that, everything will be fine.”

Steve Alford’s Bruins, who upset Arizona to win the Pac-12 Conference tournament, are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008, the last of three consecutive Final Four trips under former coach Ben Howland.

The Gators are in their fourth consecutive Sweet 16, a program first, and are seeking their first Final Four trip since 2007. UF has lost in three consecutive region finals, unprecedented for a modern NCAA team.

“We want to take that next step (to the Final Four),’’ Gators senior guard Scottie Wilbekin said. “But you can’t do that without taking all the other steps along the way. We can’t look past the next game that we have. We can’t assume anything.’’

That’s sound advice.

Particularly for an NCAA tournament that already has shattered plenty of assumptions.

If Florida defeats UCLA, it faces a region final matchup against No. 10 Stanford (23-12) or No. 11 Dayton (25-10). Stanford stunned No. 2 Kansas 60-57. Dayton defeated No. 3 Syracuse 55-53.

The Stanford-Dayton region semifinal matchup stands as one of the most surprising stories of the opening weekend.

Some others:

No. 1-seeded Wichita State saw its 35-game winning streak collapse in a riveting 78-76 loss to the No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats. Before the season, some overzealous UK supporters predicted a 40-0 season. John Calipari’s squad fell well short of that, but has seemingly found itself at the season’s most important juncture.

Next up — Kentucky against No. 4 Louisville, the defending national champion, in a renewal of one of college basketball’s foremost rivalries in the Midwest Region semifinals at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The SEC, constantly criticized during what appeared to be a down season, has three teams in the Sweet 16 — Florida, Kentucky and No. 11-seeded Tennessee, the third “First Four’’ participant to reach the tournament’s second weekend in the past four seasons.

Brand-name programs such as Kansas, Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, Ohio State and Cincinnati will not be going to the Sweet 16.

No. 7-seeded UConn, a member of the first-year American Athletic Conference and a mainstay in the old Big East Conference, finds itself in a familiar spot. The Huskies are headed to New York’s Madison Square Garden for the East Region semifinals against No. 3 Iowa State.

Suddenly, UConn making a serious Final Four run no longer seems like an outrageous concept.

An unceremonious end to the college career of Creighton senior guard Doug McDermott, who had 15 points in an 85-55 loss against Baylor. McDermott finished with 3,150 career points, good for fifth all-time.

jjohnston@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7353

Twitter: @JJohnstonTBO

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