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Florida Gators beat Pittsburgh Panthers, 61-45, advance to NCAA Sweet 16

Scottie Wilbekin #5 of the Florida Gators reacts

Scottie Wilbekin #5 of the Florida Gators reacts with Casey Prather #24 after making a three-pointer in the second half against the Pittsburgh Panthers in the second half during the third round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Amway Center on Saturday, March 22, 2014 in Orlando, Fla. Credit: Getty Images / Kevin C. Cox

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Top-seeded and top-ranked Florida is headed to its fourth straight Sweet 16, and senior guard Scottie Wilbekin was a big reason why as he scored 13 of his team's 15 points down the stretch Saturday in the Gators' 61-45 win against ninth-seeded Pittsburgh at Amway Center.

"I thought Scottie coming down the stretch of the game . . . really got in the lane, made some things happen for our team, made some great plays," coach Billy Donovan said after his team's 28th straight win. "We knew it was going to be a challenging, physical basketball game, a low-scoring basketball game, which it was."

The Gators (34-2) are headed to Memphis, where they'll face the winner of Saturday's game between fourth-seeded UCLA and 12th-seeded Stephen F. Austin. A big reason, as it has been all season, was Wilbekin, a 6-2 senior voted as the Associated Press SEC Player of the Year. He matched his second-best scoring total of the season with 21 points, and most came in direct response to a Pitt threat.

The Panthers cut Florida's lead to two points with eight seconds left in the first half and, with fouls to give, fouled Wilbekin with four seconds remaining before he could shoot. They didn't foul again, however, and Wilbekin hit an improbable running three-pointer at the buzzer to extend Florida's lead to 27-22 at halftime.

Wilbekin's next three-pointer gave the Gators a 45-31 lead, and when Pitt answered with an 8-2 run to pull within eight, he responded again. Wilbekin scored on Florida's next four possessions, closing out the win before a largely home crowd in a game less than two hours from campus.

"We just wanted to come out and not let them play harder than us," Wilbekin said. "I think we did a good job of having our energy up at the start of the game. We played together on offense and played together on defense."

Pitt (26-10) had looked to be the better team Thursday, beating eighth-seeded Colorado by 29 points while Florida beat 16th-seeded Albany by just 12. The Panthers struggled from outside, however, hitting just 4 of 17 three-point attempts, and were outrebounded 38-31 by the Gators.

The Gators got seven points, eight rebounds and four blocks from center Patric Young, and guard Michael Frazier added 10 points. Pitt fell to 0-6 this season when it scores fewer than 58 points, a testament Saturday to Florida's defense and how the Panthers responded to it.

"They're obviously a very good team and the most physical team we've played all year long," coach Jamie Dixon said. "They beat us on the glass and they beat us to loose balls, and we've got to give them credit . . . Simply put, I was extremely disappointed in how we played. We're a better team than we showed today."

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