MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — UCLA had a chance to beat Florida. When the Bruins got close, they bogged down.
The Bruins got within a point midway through the second half only to go cold and finish with their fifth game scoring under 70 points this season Thursday night in losing 79-68 to Florida in the South Regional semifinal.
“We weren’t able to knock down some wide open shots,” UCLA guard Norman Powell said. “We had shots we’ve been knocking down all season long, and they weren’t going in. That’s what happened. The difference was at the 3-point line. We made (3 of 18), and they were knocking it down.”
UCLA’s Kyle Anderson said it just wasn’t a good shooting game.
“It just seemed to happen at the wrong time,” Anderson said.
The fourth-seeded Bruins (28-9) did cap first-year coach Steve Alford’s first season by reaching a regional semifinal in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008. But one of the nation’s highest-scoring teams had been averaging 81.5 points a game just couldn’t match Florida’s physical defense or outshoot the Gators.
UCLA now is 0-4 against Florida coach Billy Donovan all-time – all in the NCAA tournament.
“They played very well,” Alford said of the Gators. “They are an outstanding basketball team.”
The Gators (35-2) extended the best winning streak in school history to 29 straight in reaching the South Regional final where they will play Dayton, an 82-72 winner over Stanford.
“From a team aspect, I think we’ve done a great job of just staying in the moment and just trying to chase greatness,” Florida guard Michael Frazier II said. “When you do that, complacency isn’t a factor so I think we’ve done a great job all year of just staying in the moment and chasing greatness.”
Florida shot 50 percent for the game (29 of 58), including 59.3 percent in the second half. UCLA finished 42.2 percent (27 of 64) shooting in only their fifth game scoring under 70 points this season. The Bruins were a cold 1 of 12 beyond the arc in the second half.
Jordan Adams led the Bruins with 17 points, Anderson had 11 and five assists with nine rebounds. Travis Wear added 14.
“We were playing at a pace that we wanted to play, it was just a night where we missed a lot of shots we normally hit,” UCLA forward David Wear said.
Frazier scored 19 for Florida. Scottie Wilbekin added 13 points, Casey Prather had 12 points, and Dorian Finney-Smith had 10. Kasey Hill had 10 assists. The Gators have not lost since Dec. 2 and now are back in their fourth straight regional final after ending their season there the previous three seasons.
“We just talked about it, and it’s not enough for us,” Florida senior Will Yeguete said. “We have two days to get ready for a good team, and we’re just going to go for it on Saturday.”
The Gators led 36-30 at halftime and clicked on a different level in the second half. They hit their first six shots and eight of their first 10. Every time UCLA tried to make a run, Florida answered. First, it was Frazier hitting consecutive 3-pointers as UCLA pulled within 43-39.
When the Bruins pulled within 56-55 on a layup by Powell midway through the half, Finney-Smith hit a jumper for the first of 10 straight points. The Gators had UCLA running up and down the court so much Adams couldn’t even hit the rim with a jumper despite having an open look at the basket.
Wilbekin finished off the run with a three-point play that had the Gators solidly in control, up 66-55 with 5:34 left.
“He hit two big shots down the stretch,” Anderson said. “That’s what you expect out of your senior point guard. He’s been here in the Sweet 16 four years. He made big shots. Credit to him.”
Florida also outrebounded UCLA 40-30, and Adams said the Bruins had lots of open shots that Florida recovered when they missed.
For all the talk of Florida’s stingy defense, UCLA opened the game blocking the Gators’ first two shots. The Bruins only blocked two more shots the rest of the game.
The Bruins came in as one of the nation’s best scoring teams, averaging 81.5 points a game. Florida showed early it could shoot too, hitting 5 of 8 beyond the arc in spurt that turned a 14-11 deficit into a 20-16 lead. Back-to-back 3s from Frazier put the Gators ahead to stay.
Every time Anderson got the ball near the UCLA basket, he found himself with at least two Gators trying to smother him.