Florida Gators forward Will Yeguete (15) reacts with guard Scottie Wilbekin (5) at the end of the second half of a men’s college basketball game against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the third round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament at Amway Center. Florida won 61-45. (USA TODAY Sports: Kim Klement)
GAINESVILLE — Florida is quite familiar with postseason success, especially when it comes to games against UCLA.
In 2006, the Gators beat the Bruins 73-57 in the NCAA title game to clinch their first basketball national championship in school history. In 2007, Florida beat UCLA 76-66 in the Final Four en route to the second of back-to-back national titles.
In 2011, Florida beat UCLA 73-65 in a Round of 32 matchup in Tampa behind 21 points from former guard Erving Walker.
Florida coach Billy Donovan said UF’s 3-0 NCAA Tournament record against UCLA has no bearing on Thursday’s Sweet 16 matchup between the two teams in Memphis. The Gators won those three games when Ben Howland coached the Bruins. UCLA is back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008 with first-year coach Steve Alford.
“You have a totally different philosophy and you have totally different players,” Donovan said. “The name on the jersey happens to be the same one that we’ve maybe played three different times in the NCAA Tournament, but everything else is really a lot different.”
Donovan is wary of the challenges the Bruins present, particularly on the offensive end of the floor. Behind the dynamic sophomore backcourt tandem of Kyle Anderson (14.9 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 6.6 apg) and Jordan Adams (17.4 ppg), UCLA is averaging 81.5 points per game.
“They’re a unique team, probably unlike any team we’ve played this year,” Donovan said. “Really, really fast, explosive in transition, great scoring ability from all five spots.
“You know, a uniqueness about them because one of their leading rebounders is Kyle Anderson. It’s a little bit unique for a point guard to get as many rebounds as he does and starts the break, and that’s where they’re really, really great is in transition. They also do a really good job with their halfcourt offense.”
The Gators (34-2) are coming off a 61-45 NCAA Tournament win over Pittsburgh, the eighth time they has held an opponent under 50 points this season. Defense has been UF’s calling card. Florida is giving up just 57.5 points per game.
“We’re going to have to focus on ourselves (defensively) and just go into the game like we’ve been doing all year,” Florida senior forward Will Yeguete said.
NOTES: Florida senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said he has no lingering issues from a knee injury he suffered late in UF’s win over Pittsburgh.
“It’s fine,” Wilbekin said. “It’s just a bruise.”
Wilbekin sat out the final 1:19 of the game after knocking knees with a Pittsburgh defender. The 6-foot-2 Gainesville, Fla., native finished the Pittsburgh game with 21 points, two assists and two steals.
—With Wichita State (35 games) and Stephen F. Austin (29 games) both losing Sunday, Florida’s current 28-game winning streak is the longest in the nation.
—The Gators are the only college program to reach the Sweet 16 in each of the last four seasons. UCLA is one of basketball’s proudest programs — with 11 national championship banners hanging at Pauley Pavilion — but the Bruins are in a regional semifinal for the first time in six seasons.
“Our work isn’t done,” Anderson said. “They don’t hang Sweet 16s up in Pauley.”