MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Florida’s seniors have led the way all season, but the Gators’ young bench could be the key to reaching the Final Four.
The No. 11 Dayton Flyers will come at the No. 1 Gators in waves on Saturday, unleashing as many as a dozen players to push the pace and create havoc.
Coach Archie Miller’s formula has carried the school to the cusp of its first Final Four since 1967. The Flyers’ playing style has the attention of the Gators, even though they are 10-point favorites.
“We’re playing a dangerous team,” UF senior center Patric Young said. “They earned their spot to be here. They were the best team to make this spot.
“Hopefully we can be the best team tomorrow.”
Winners of 29 straight games, the Gators (35-2) are even better when their bench gets involved.
Gators’ reserves scored 23 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and dished out 14 assists during Thursday night’s 79-68 win against UCLA in the Sweet 16.
Back-up by point guard Kasey Hill had 10 assists to join Magic Johnson, Keith Gatlin and Jason Kidd as one of only freshmen with as many dishes in the Sweet 16. Freshman Chris Walker, a 6-foot-10 forward, had seven points and three rebounds in six minutes.
“Whenever we can get games like that from those guys, it’s fun to watch,” senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said.
Dayton (26-10) has put on a show lately. The Flyers have won 13 of 15 games, beating Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford in the NCAA Tournament.
Dayton had 19 assists during Thursday night’s 82-72 win against Stanford. During a 55-53 win a round earlier against Syracuse, Dayton hit seven 3s, while holding the Orangemen without one. Nine players played double-digits minutes and scored during a 60-59 shocker of Ohio State during the opening round.
“Sacrifice is part of winning,” leading scorer Jordan Siebert said of the Flyers’ depth. “Anybody is able to hit a game winner. Anybody is able to take the last shot. Anybody is able to make the big play.”
But the Gators can go nine-deep themselves.
“Everybody on our team needs to be ready to play and give maximize effort,” Wilbekin said.