Gators Win Big in Opening Round

TAMPA -— It was over before it even started. When the Gators wanted to score in the paint, they did. When they wanted to expand the lead early from behind the three-point line, they did that, too. There wasn't much UC Santa Barbara could do to stop it, as Florida ran away with a 79-51 win in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

"This was the first time where it was season-ending stuff," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. "We came in very focused. We learned some very valuable lessons against Kentucky in what we had to do better. Our focus and preparation for the days leading in were very good."

After the Gauchos hit a shot from the free throw line to take an early 1-0 lead, the rout was on.

UC Santa Barbara forward James Nunnally hit a three-pointer to cut the Florida lead to 16-8 early, but the Gators went on a 25-10 run to take a comfortable lead they would never relinquish.

"They're really good," UC Santa Barbara head coach Bob Williams said to open his press conference. "They're really good. You've got McDonald's All-Americans playing it as unselfishly as they play it and the way they play it. They're a good basketball program."

Despite the Gauchos starting the game in zone defense, Florida hit early three-pointers to stretch the zone out. Once the defense stepped out to guard the shooters, the Gators started to pound the ball inside to Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus. When the big men weren't scoring, the guards were driving to the basket to give the Gators an 18-4 advantage on points in the paint during the first half. It was a 34-18 advantage when the game was over.

The ball didn't need to go inside much, though.

Walker, Boynton and Parsons went 5-for-11 from behind the three-point line in the first half. The question this season remains about what will happen when the shots from the outside aren't falling, but Florida will continue to ride the streaky shooting of Walker and Boynton until they need to do something else.

The two guards combined for 31 points and seven assists.

"They played well tonight," Donovan said about Walker and Boynton. "(Walker) scored, but it didn't even seem like he took that many shots. The same with Kenny, he was patient and then there were a couple plays where the ball ends up in his hands. Anytime your backcourt is scoring, it really opens things up for your frontcourt."

Parsons was on track for a triple-double, but he didn't play in the final 10 minutes of the game. He ended the night with 10 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists. The ten assists were a career high. Donovan wanted to get his freshmen some time on the floor to help get experience and rest the Florida starters.

While the Gators did what they wanted, UC Santa Barbara struggled. The Gauchos hit only two shots inside the three-point line during the first half. Their only scoring threat during the game was Orlando Johnson, who went for 21 points. Johnson scored the first 10 points of the second half for UC Santa Barbara, and their first points from another player came when Jon Pastorek hit a jumper with 9:29 remaining in the second half.

"Coming into the game, our focus was to make Johnson take tough shots," Boynton said. "That's what I tried to do, and I think my team helped out a lot. We wanted him to take tough twos."

The Guachos' 19 first-half points was the second fewest the Gators have ever allowed in an NCAA Tournament game. Florida's 24-point halftime was the second biggest of the season, behind only the 25-point lead over North Carolina A&T.

UC Santa Barbara managed 50 points, just missing the school record low for points allowed by the Gators. It came when Florida held South Alabama to 50 points in its first round game in 2006.

Florida players declined to say that the game was a statement against anyone who doubted their seeding, but UC Santa Barbara's coach Williams doesn't buy it. He saw his team dominated from the beginning of the game in a loss that had his team completely dominated.

"Anyone who thinks they're overrated as a two-seed, I think you're wrong," Williams said. "We played Ohio State (who was a two-seed) last year, and this (Florida) team was more dominant than Ohio State when we played them last. (Florida) had a lot more versatility in terms of weapons and how they can hurt you. This group has a great inside-out combination."

The Gators move on to Saturday, when they will take on the winner of Michigan State and UCLA. The time has not been announced yet.

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