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Overpowering performance shows Gators belong in Sweet 16

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If the Florida Gators play like they did on Saturday, they have a chance to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Florida smothered the beleaguered Virginia Cavaliers, 65-39 in a second round game at the Amway Center in Orlando.

This game was expected to be a defensive-oriented contest since neither team was known as offensive juggernauts. Florida has shown the ability to post big wins when they shoot around 50 percent. Three straight 30-point blowouts and a 22-point smashing of Kentucky are good examples.

Saturday’s game looked a lot like those four. The Gators hit 46 percent of their shots, including 38 percent of their three-point attempts. ,Devin Robinson, who had an outstanding two days in Orlando, and Justin Leon posted double-doubles.

The Cavaliers, even on the few occasions they were open, struggled mightily. They clanked 70 percent of their shots, 14 of their 15 three-point attempts.

Holding any major college team to 39 points isn’t easy, let alone the big stage of the Big Dance. It was a performance worthy of a Sweet 16 team – Florida’s next destination – or maybe even a Final Four participant.

“We’ve played really well at times this year,” said Florida Coach Mike White. “We’ve added a couple of wrinkles and got rid of a couple of wrinkles.”

Going into Saturday, the Gators thought that a victory over Virginia would give them a crack at the tournament’s top seed, defending champion Villanova. Instead, they will face eighth-seeded (the selection committee made a big mistake) Wisconsin in the East Region semi-finals in New York.

The Badgers are similar to Virginia in preferring a deliberate style of play, but the Wisconsin offense is better than Virginia’s. It promises to be hand-to-hand combat.

Whatever the style of play, White is just happy his team will still be practicing this week.

“We’re not done playing,” he said. “We’re excited about next weekend.”

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Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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