TAMPA (AP) – Florida made its opening game in the NCAA tournament look like one of those preseason exhibitions.
Yes, the Gators looked every bit deserving of a No. 2 seed.
Chandler Parsons flirted with his first triple-double, finishing with 10 points, seven rebounds and a career-high 10 assists, and Florida coasted to a 79-51 victory over 15th-seeded UC Santa Barbara in the Southeast region Thursday night.
The Gators (27-7) made 11 of their first 15 shots, opened up a double-digit lead and kept piling on the rest of the way. They were bigger, faster, more skilled and more athletic at nearly every position — and it showed in what was the most lopsided game so far on the first day of the tournament.
Erving Walker had 18 points and six assists, and Kenny Boynton added 13 points as Florida got contributions from just about everyone.
Orlando Johnson led the Gauchos (18-14) with 21 points.
Prognosticators across the country questioned Florida’s selection as a No. 2 seed, wondering how a team that lost to Jacksonville and Central Florida during the regular season and got drilled by Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference tournament final garnered such a lofty spot.
Even the Gators figured they would be seeded third.
But they looked like a polished team ready for the big stage against UCSB, the Big West tournament champions who looked shellshocked from the opening tip.
The Gauchos put up more of a fight in the opening round last year against Ohio State. The Buckeyes won 68-51.
Florida eclipsed 68 points with about 5 minutes remaining Thursday.
The Gators faced little resistance in the second half thanks to a stellar first 20 minutes in which Florida shot 58 percent from the field. Parsons and fellow starters Walker, Boynton, Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin combined for 33 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists before the break.
Parsons got things going with two assists and then consecutive 3-pointers. Boynton added a driving layup and a 3-pointer that pushed the lead to 23-11. Things really got out of hand when freshman Patric Young started dominating the boards.
Young had a dunk, a putback and two free throws during a 13-3 run that turned the game into a laugher. Young finished with six points and six rebounds.
There was nothing UC Santa Barbara could do to turn things around, either.
Coach Bob Williams called timeout, made substitutions and pleaded with his players for better effort. But this one was over early, and everyone knew it.
Walker drained his fourth 3 early in the second half, pushing the lead to 30, and the Gators went into cruise control from there.
Even walk-on Kyle McClanahan got in the box score, scoring for the second time this season.
The Gators were up 43-19 at the break. It was the most points Florida has ever scored in the opening half in the NCAA tournament and the fewest points the Gators have allowed in any half in NCAA tournament history. It also was Florida’s largest halftime lead in the NCAA tournament.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)