Florida tops UCLA to reach South Regional final

Scottie Wilbekin of the Florida Gators drives to

Scottie Wilbekin of the Florida Gators drives to the basket as Norman Powell of the UCLA Bruins defends during a regional semifinal of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the FedExForum on March 27, 2014 in Memphis, Tenn. (Credit: Getty Images / Kevin C. Cox)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- UCLA refused to cry uncle.

Against Florida, the nation's No. 1 team, in Thursday night's NCAA South Regional semifinal, the Bruins dangled over the abyss for long stretches, experiencing Florida's frightening skills and energy, but hung on. And hung on.

Until Florida had had enough and pulled away to a 79-68 victory, bolstering its argument that it deserves its superior ranking with just the right play at the just the right time.



BRACKETS: East | South | West | Midwest

SCORES: Men's NCAA Tournament | Women's NCAA Tournament



The 29th consecutive win makes Florida 35-2. It sets up an Elite Eight game Saturday against 11th-seeded Dayton as Florida homes in on what appears its season-long destiny.

"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."

UCLA (28-9) crawled to within four points several times in the second half, then within three, and -- exactly midway through the half -- within one at 56-55 on guard Norman Powell's driving layup.

But that's when Florida reserve Dorian Finney-Smith (10 points) sank a baseline jumper, followed quickly by Michael Frazier II's jumper.

Immediately, UCLA began to absorb the full force of Florida's diverse talents. Yeguete flew out to the perimeter to block UCLA guard Bryce Alford's jump shot. Florida guard Scott Wilbekin, who at that point had shot only 2-for-10, nailed a three-pointer and, on the ensuing trip downcourt, sailed through the lane to convert a wild layup.

Florida's lead had expanded to 65-55 with 6:11 to play, and UCLA essentially was done.

Frazier bedeviled UCLA all night with his three-point accuracy (5-for-8) on his way to 19 points. Wilbekin had 13 and Casey Prather 12. Kasey Hill had 10 of Florida's 22 assists and Yeguete had seven of its 40 rebounds (compared to UCLA's 30). For UCLA, Jordan Adams scored 17 and Travis Wear 14.

Florida blocked five shots to UCLA's four, and somehow Florida's blocks were scarier, its defense more suffocating, its ball movement more efficient.

"From a team aspect, I think we've done a great job of just staying in the moment and just trying to chase greatness," Frazier said. "When you do that, complacency isn't a factor.''

Nothing is settled yet in The Big Dance, of course. But for now, Florida remains an obvious No. 1.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

NCAA basketball videos

Newsday Sports on Facebook

advertisement | advertise on newsday