MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Dayton’s players are feeling confident and loose with the upsets they have pulled in the NCAA tournament. They also are ready to wreck what’s left of anyone’s bracket with their greatest challenge ahead and a trip to the Final Four on the line.
Enter Florida, the overall top seed.
Although the 11th-seeded Flyers have exceeded expectations going into tonight’s South Regional final, the Gators are driven, too. They talk of chasing greatness, trying to add to a 29-game winning streak that is the best in school history. Florida also is back in the Elite Eight, having lost regional finals the past three years.
“We’re just very blessed and fortunate to be a team that can put themselves in this opportunity to play for a Final Four again,” Florida senior Patric Young said yesterday. “Going to prepare and do the best we can, especially as a senior class, because it’s our last go-round to make it to that next step.”
The Gators’ past three seasons were ended by Butler in overtime, Louisville and Michigan. Young said they have learned from each of those regional-final losses, in which they either didn’t finish a game when they had a lead or weren’t ready to play, as was the case a year ago when Michigan routed them 79-59.
“We’re going to do the best we can and make sure we go out there leaving no regrets,” he said.
Florida (35-2) hasn’t lost since Dec. 2 at Connecticut, and the Gators’ victory over UCLA tied the school record for most victories in a season, set by the 2007 national-champion team. Their string of Elite Eights is even more impressive considering no other team has even made four straight Sweet 16s in the same span.
Dayton coach Archie Miller will counter Florida’s experience and winning tradition with his deep bench. Dayton (26-10) used 12 players in defeating Stanford 82-72 on Thursday night, and the Flyers aren’t worried about seeding at this point of a tournament in which they also have beaten Ohio State and Syracuse.
“It made us think we can play against anybody in the country,” Dayton guard and ex-Buckeye Jordan Sibert said. “It’s just our nature to know we can go out there and compete for 40 minutes. At the end of the game, we’ll be right there to win it.”
Defense likely will be the key. Florida ranks third nationally in scoring defense, allowing 57.8 points a game. The Gators haven’t allowed more than 68 points over the past 10 games. Dayton is pretty stingy too, allowing only two opponents to top 70 in its past seven games.