Memphis, TN (SportsNetwork.com) - A berth in the South Region final is on the line on Thursday night at FedEx Forum, as the top-seeded Florida Gators take on the fourth-seeded UCLA Bruins in the Sweet 16.
The winner will advance to the Elite Eight to take on whichever Cinderella story survives the Dayton/Stanford matchup.
UCLA (28-8) took care of business against 13th-seeded Tulsa in the second round on Friday with a 76-59 victory and then squashed 12th-seeded Stephen F. Austin in Sunday's third round with an easy 77-60 triumph. The red-hot Bruins are winners of five straight after defeating three NCAA Tournament-qualifying teams (Oregon, Stanford, Arizona) en route to the Pac-12 Tournament championship.
Florida (34-2), winners of a program-record 28 straight games, suffered a bit of a scare against 16th-seeded Albany in the second round before earning a 67-55 win and followed that up with a dominating defensive performance in a 61-45 third-round victory over Pittsburgh. The Gators have made four straight Sweet 16 appearances, the longest active streak in the country.
The Gators have bested the Bruins in all three previous meetings, having defeated UCLA each time in tournament action, with wins in the 2006 National Championship Game, the 2007 Final Four and the 2011 Round of 32.
After taking VCU by surprise in the second round, SFA was unable to do the same against UCLA, as the Bruins shot 54.7 percent from the field and held SFA to just 35.1 percent shooting as they cruised to the 17-point victory. Jordan Adams poured in a team-high 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the floor, Norman Powell added 16 points and Kyle Anderson was his usual well-rounded self with 15 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
On the season, UCLA boasts one of the nation's best offensive attacks, as it ranks in the top-25 nationally in scoring (81.5 ppg), field-goal percentage (.491), 3-point percentage (.386) and free-throw percentage (.749). The squad also owns impressive margins in terms of rebounding (+2.0) and turnovers (+4.1), all of which help mask a modest defense (70.1 ppg). Adams is the top scoring threat with 17.4 ppg and is also an elite perimeter defender with 2.7 spg. Anderson (14.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 6.5 apg) is the only player in the nation to average 10 points, eight rebounds and six assists per outing. Powell scores 11.5 ppg and five others net at least 6.5 ppg.
After the Gators battled tight with Pittsburgh in the first half their last time out, they took a five-point lead into intermission and never surrendered that advantage in the second stanza en route to the 16-point victory. They shot only 43.1 percent from the field on the afternoon but committed just six turnovers and held the Panthers to a mere 37.3 percent shooting. Scottie Wilbekin, the SEC Player of the Year, poured in a game-high 21 points on 9- of-15 from the field (3-of-7 from 3-point range). Michael Frazier chipped in with 10 points.
Florida's offensive output this season has been impressive, as it shoots field goals at greater than 46-percent efficiency for 70.4 ppg, but the primary reason for its overwhelming success has been due to its elite team defense, ranking third in the nation in allowing only 57.5 ppg, with Wilbekin (13.1 ppg) and Patric Young (10.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg) being named to the SEC All-Defensive Team. Prather (14.1 ppg) shoots a lofty 60.7 percent from the field, Frazier (12.5 ppg) has made 110 3-pointers at a 44.4 percent clip and Dorian Finney- Smith (9.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg) brings an added presence to the paint.