Chris Chiozza left his feet from just outside the three-point line, his body pirouetting toward the basket as he heaved up the hopes of this Florida basketball team. When he finally came down, at the overtime buzzer, the Gators surrounded him in a dizzy fever. Around them, Wisconsin stood shell-shocked, beaten.
Only five minutes earlier, Wisconsin’s Zak Showalter had done almost the exact same thing, sending this instantly classic Sweet 16 game to overtime. When he finally came back down — after taking off from just outside the arc and executing a long jump before releasing a three-pointer, just as Chiozza would do — Showalter looked toward the stands, toward Aaron Rodgers, and mimed the quarterback’s signature “discount double check.’’ Rodgers smiled.
Yeah, it was that sort of game.
In a delirious contest that at times seemed too crazy to be real, Chiozza’s acrobatic three-pointer defeated eighth-seeded Wisconsin, 84-83, on Friday night at Madison Square Garden. The fourth-seeded Gators will play South Carolina on Sunday for a chance at the Final Four.
Gators coach Mike White said: “My goodness. Just a huge win. What a wonderful college basketball game to be a part of. I’m so proud of our guys. I can’t even put it into words.”
With the score tied at 81, Nigel Hayes hit two free throws to give Wisconsin the lead with four seconds left in overtime.
“I just knew I had four seconds,” Chiozza said, “and I was trying to get down the court as fast as I could, and if someone was open, I was going to pass it. But I was really trying to get to the rim . . . It was the only shot I had.”
He added, “God just pleased me with incredible speed. I just knew that I could use that and get to the other end of the court and have time left to either get somebody else a shot or take the shot myself.”
Florida didn’t score a field goal in the final 6 minutes, 10 seconds of regulation, erasing an 11-point lead. Bronson Koenig’s three-pointer and Ethan Happ’s putback drew the Badgers to within three with 44 seconds left, and Hayes intercepted Kevarrius Hayes’ bad pass with 16 seconds left to set up Showalter’s tying three-pointer with 2.1 seconds left in regulation.
White said of Showalter’s basket, “They made a huge shot. It was deflating. It was a deflating shot. And we kept composure. This team has grown so much in the last couple months . . . and we didn’t freak out. We had games like that where we had a run against us — the guys have seen it — where we kind of freak out. We’ve just matured so much. For Chris to have the wherewithal to know he can get all the way the length of the court in four seconds” was proof of it.
Florida’s KeVaughn Allen led all scorers with 35, a Gators record in the NCAA Tournament. Hayes had 22 for Wisconsin.
The Badgers and their considerable postseason experience were far better than their seeding, but the Gators played to their strengths, attempting 62 shots. In addition to Allen’s clinic, Justin Leon pulled down eight rebounds to go with seven points. Wisconsin committed 26 personal fouls and Florida made the Badgers pay, going 20-for-28 from the stripe.
Along with Kentucky, there are three SEC teams in the Elite Eight for the first time since 1986.