OMAHA, Neb. — So much for Virginia’s vaunted defense shutting down Florida’s up-tempo offense.
Even on a day when the Gators couldn’t find the basket with their 3-pointers, they had no trouble beating the Cavaliers 71-45 Friday in the NCAA Midwest Regional.
Bradley Beal had 14 points and 11 rebounds, reserve Casey Prather scored a career-high 14 and Florida pulled away in the second half.
The Gators finished the first half on a 17-4 run to shake off a slow start and get out to a 30-22 lead. They shot 70 percent in the second half and pushed their advantage to more than 20 points with 8 minutes left.
No. 7 seed Florida (24-10), which made it to the regional finals last season, came into the game averaging a nation-leading 9.9 3-pointers a game but made only 4 of 23. The Gators were 24 of 30 from inside the arc, though.
Mike Scott had 15 points for Virginia (22-10), which was in the tournament for the first time since 2007.
The teams’ second all-time meeting, and first since the 1992 NIT semifinals, was billed as a clash between Virginia’s pack-line defense and Florida’s up-tempo perimeter offense.
Florida missed its first 13 shots from behind the arc. No matter. The Gators dominated the offensive glass, with 10 of their first 19 points coming on second chances as they seemingly knifed through Virginia’s defense at will for putbacks.
Patric Young’s beauty of a tip-in on Kenny Boynton’s missed jumper got the Gators within two points early — after they fell behind 10-2 — and back-to-back putbacks by Prather and Beal gave Florida its first lead, 19-18.
Scottie Wilbekin finally connected for his team’s first 3-pointer with 1:07 left in the half to push the advantage to 30-22. Virginia made only two field goals the last 8 ? minutes.
It took a bit for the Gators to adjust to the pack-line, which essentially is a man-to-man system that starts with each Virginia player stationed along an imaginary arc about 16 feet from the basket. A defender doesn’t cross the line unless his man gets the ball. When the ball is passed, the defender goes back to the pack and a different defender goes out to cover his man.
If the ball penetrates the pack, defenders collapse on the player with the ball and work to force a turnover. That’s what happened on Florida’s first possession, with Young getting called for traveling as the defense collapsed on him.
The Gators turned over the ball four times in the first 5 ? minutes, then just three times the rest of the half.
Though they were 1 of 15 on 3s the first half, they made 11 of 15 inside the arc.
Boynton, who came into the game having made 10 of his last 31 3s, was just 3 of 10 overall and 0 for 5 on 3s and finished with eight points — half his team-leading average.
Prather and Beal picked up the slack, as did Young, who had dunks on three of his first four field goals and finished 6 for 6.
Things unraveled for Virginia so much in the second half that when Sammy Zeglinski made an easy pass to Scott on a two-on-one break, Scott let the ball hit his hands and go out of bounds as he approached the basket with Prather trailing a step behind him.
Beal hit a 3 on the other end, and Florida was up 51-32. Game over.