Walker Leads Gators to Sweet 16

TAMPA -- Erving Walker has always used his opponent's aggressiveness against them. He did it yet again on Saturday, hitting a clutch three-pointer that put the game away. The junior poured in 21 points in the St. Pete Times Forum to give the Gators a 73-65 win over UCLA, advancing Florida to the Sweet 16 next weekend in New Orleans.

With 1:18 left and a one-point lead, Florida had the ball under its own basket. No player got open near the hoop, so Scottie Wilbekin threw the inbounds pass near the half-court line. UCLA guard Malcolm Lee had a play on the ball, B.T. Walker snatched it out of the air and blew by him.

He pulled up and took a three-pointer, drilling it and giving the Gators a four-point. The shot locked up Florida's victory that gave the program its first Sweet 16 appearance since 2007.

"We were having a little trouble getting the ball inbounds, and Scottie threw it long to me," Walker said. "I just wanted to check to make sure I had time to get the shot off. It was a good look and a good one for me to take."

There were still free throws to be made, but Walker took care of those, too.

The junior hit a circus shot with 3:58 left, creating contact with UCLA's 323-pound center Josh Smith, before throwing the ball up and off the glass. Walker was hoping for the foul to be called, but the two-point basket gave the Gators a five-point lead.

"I tried to get past him, and I thought he fouled me," Walker said. "I felt a lot of contact, so I just tried to get the ball up on the rim, and luckily it went in."

The Gators took command of the game after Chandler Parsons came up with a blocker of UCLA center Josh Smith. Florida got a fast break three-pointer from Kenny Boynton on the way down, and after a stop, Erik Murphy hit a three-pointer to give the Gators a six-point lead with 5:49 left.

It was the block from Parsons that set the run up and brought the crowd back in the game.

"It was actually my fault because I was late rotating, and that guy is really strong," Parsons said. "We came down there and hit a huge shot, so it was a big play."

Florida had a scary moment when Kenny Boynton missed a three-pointer with 4:33 left in the game and came down on UCLA center Josh Smith's foot. He was down in pain and helped to the locker room, but the sophomore guard limped out moments later. He was held out for mere minutes before Donovan sent him back to the scorer's table to check in.

"I'm just glad he's not hurt too bad," Wilbekin said. "He'll be back for the next game."

Smith showed his dominance early in the game. He scored UCLA's first six points of the game, and when the Florida defense tried to double-team him, the freshman found Reeves Nelson running wide open through the paint for a dunk.

Smith got into foul trouble during the second half, but he still dominated when in the game.

UCLA freshman center Anthony Stover played eleven minutes in backup duty of Smith, and the Gators went at Stover on offense with success.

On offense, the Gators tried to slow Smith down. He put most of the Florida frontcourt in foul trouble by himself, as Patric Young and Vernon Macklin each had four fouls at the eight-minute mark of the second half.

Young was the best defender against Smith, and he gave the team energy plays when it was needed. The Gators were forced to try power forward Alex Tyus, who had a career-high 13 rebounds, on him late in the game, and even with four fouls, Young and Macklin were forced to play passively and give him easy baskets.

"If you give him deep post position, he'll back into you and make his layup," Young said. "Just don't foul him."

Young electrified the crowd with a block of Nelson in the first half. On the following defensive possession, Young cut in front of a pass on the perimeter and led his own fast break for a dunk.

When the first half came to a close, the stats looked more like Florida had a comfortable lead. The Gators shot 56% in the first half while holding UCLA to 40.7% from the field. The key difference came in rebounding margin, where the Bruins held a 20-10 advantage. UCLA also led 9-0 in offensive rebounds.

Despite Smith's dominance on the glass, he didn't do the most damage to the Gators on the glass in the first half. Nelson pulled down six rebounds while also leading the Bruins with six first-half points.

"They have good bigs," Nelson said of Florida. "They're physical, especially (Young). He had his way with a few of my teammates."

The game featured two similar teams on offense. Florida has been a team that spread the ball evenly around in scoring, and UCLA did the same thing. The combined ten starters were all on the board 15 minutes into the game, and 12 total players had scored at that point.

Florida will face the winner of Gonzaga and BYU in the Sweet 16.


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