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Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, Florida overwhelm plucky Dayton to reach Final Four

Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin celebrates his basket against

Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin celebrates his basket against Dayton's Vee Sanford during the first half in a regional final game at the NCAA college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 29, 2014, in Memphis, Tenn. Credit: AP / John Bazemore

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - This report should not come as any kind of shock. Florida is hot this time of year.

We speak, of course, of college basketball.

For the fourth time in 15 seasons, the University of Florida has burned through the NCAA Tournament all the way to the Final Four. Even before Saturday night's fairly convincing 62-52 South Regional final victory over Dayton, which had become the most alluring participant in this year's Big Dance, Florida was well ahead of the national curve.

It already was in a fourth straight Elite Eight. No other school had even reached the round of 16 so regularly.

"Thirty-six and two is 36-and-2," Dayton coach Archie Mitchell said, a nod to Florida's record, which includes a school-record winning streak that has reached 30. "To be on the same floor with them, you know, was a really big-time feeling."

For brief spells, Dayton (26-11) was able to match Florida's thunder-rumbling, sword-rattling aggressiveness, belying the Flyers' No. 11 regional seed and the sense that top-ranked Florida's continued advance was a fait accompli.

With 6:57 to play in the first half, Bronx native Scoochie Smith splashed in a three-point shot to give Dayton a 21-19 lead. Alas, it was Dayton's only lead. Florida, with senior guard Scottie Wilbekin reprising one of his spring-from-the-weeds performances, outscored Dayton 15-1 in the last 4 1/2 minutes of the half.

Wilbekin had nine of those points, including a long, stake-in-the-heart three-pointer at the halftime buzzer for a 38-24 Florida lead.

"I can't remember exactly what I was thinking" when cutting down the nets afterward, Wilbekin said. "But I'm going to go with 'happy.' "

He finished with 23 points -- including Florida's last seven of the game, to snuff out any embers of Dayton hope -- plus three assists, three steals and the designation as the regional's most valuable player.

Just as crucial for Florida, though, was its defense at the rim and dominance on the offensive boards. Twelve of its 37 rebounds came on that end of the court, including five straight after Dayton's last-gasp rush narrowed the gap to 58-50 with 3:51 left.

That Dayton rally was mostly powered by sophomore Dyshawn Pierre, who provided an assist and four baskets, one a three-pointer during an 11-3, six-minute burst by Dayton.

But the Flyers didn't score again until Pierre, who finished with 18 points, made a layup with 16 seconds left and the game already decided.

"They're a very big team," Pierre said, "and you've got Patric Young there. He altered a lot of shots."

Center Matt Kavanaugh, whose early work on the boards kept Dayton's chances credible and finished with eight rebounds, found Young, who blocked four shots and had six rebounds, to be "a monster. If basketball doesn't work out, he could have a great career in the NFL as a tight end. He played a great game; their whole front line played a great game."

Kavanaugh referred also to Will Yeguete (seven rebounds, one block), Casey Prather (seven rebounds) and Dorian Finney-Smith (nine rebounds).

So there was Florida and Wilbekin "having the most fun of my life right now," he said. "And I give [Dayton] all the credit. They didn't give up. They fought the whole 40 minutes."

So it's not just the Florida heat. It's the humility.

New York Sports