Florida isn’t concerned with any fairy tales

By: Wally Hall
Published: Sunday, March 30, 2014
Kentucky's Julius Randle (30) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arkansas, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, in Lexington, Ky. Arkansas won 71-67. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
Kentucky's Julius Randle (30) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arkansas, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, in Lexington, Ky. Arkansas won 71-67. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

No one should ever think of Dayton as a Cinderella.

No. 11 seed Dayton knocked off No. 6 seed Ohio State, No. 3 seed Syracuse and No. 10 seed Stanford - three rich and powerful schools - to earn a shot at overall No. 1 seed Florida.

Like so many teams before them, the Flyers just weren’t good enough to handle the Gators, who play great defense and unselfish offense.

Florida has four seniors and strong leadership, although the darling of this run, Scottie Wilbekin, came by it through the velvet fist of Coach Billy Donovan, who suspended him from all basketball activities for a month last summer and for three games the season before that.

Now, he’s the ebb and flow of a team that seems to handle pressure like it is a spring breeze off the Gulf Coast.

When Dayton mounted a small rally and cut a 15-point deficit to eight Saturday, the Gators crashed the boards. Donovan had already manipulated his lineup to get a distinct height advantage on the floor.

Now the Gators, the pride of the SEC, have realized a big part of their goal, the Final Four, and all the critics who have wagged their tongues about how the conference is a football powerhouse but a basketball sissy are choking on their words.

Kentucky could join them today if it can get by the high-octane offense of Michigan.

Even if the Wildcats don’t make it, the SEC proved its point on the biggest stage in college basketball.

Someone has to say it: The SEC may have been much better in basketball than previously thought, and perhaps Arkansas or Missouri belonged in the NCAA Tournament.

Since yours truly lives in Arkansas, the case made will be for the Razorbacks. Someone in Missouri can argue for the Tigers, although their biggest claim to fame is they beat the Hogs twice.

The Razorbacks went 2-2 against the three SEC teams that made the NCAA Tournament field.

They lost to Tennessee, 81-74, after spotting the Vols too many easy baskets.

The Volunteers almost overcame a 15-point deficit against Michigan - and the Big Ten may have been the best basketball conference in the country this season - before falling 73-71, and that came only after a controversial charging call against Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes with six seconds remaining.

After countless reviews the charge was upheld. It appeared Stokes was stripped of the ball first, barely made contact with the defender, and that the official who made the call should be the Midwest Region MVP.

Officials should never determine the outcome of a game, but that one did.

The Hogs lost to Florida 84-82 in overtime, and no team has played the Gators as closely as the Hogs since Florida started its winning streak. Certainly no team in the NCAA Tournament has been close to sending the Gators into overtime.

Going into Saturday’s game with Dayton, the Gators had won their three NCAA Tournament games by an average of almost 20 points. No. 4 seed UCLA, winner of the Pac-12 Conference Tournament, was lucky to stay within 11 (79-68).

Arkansas beat Kentucky twice, and the Wildcats have sent home No. 1 seed Wichita State and defending champion Louisville to advance today to the Elite Eight, where it takes on Michigan.

Yes, Arkansas would have had to play on the road, but it would have been a neutral site.

For sure Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee represented their league better than any other major conferences’ representatives. Right now the SEC’s overall record is 10-1 in the NCAA Tournament and 4-4 in the NIT.

The Gators beat a very good Dayton team Saturday, one that should never be called Cinderella.

Sports, Pages 25 on 03/30/2014