TAMPA, Fla. (Sports Network) – Erving Walker scored 10 of his game-high 21 points in the final four minutes, as Florida topped UCLA, 73-65, to move on to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
“[Walker] played great down the stretch for them,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said. “[He] burned us with it. He really did a great job down the stretch for their team.”
Florida, the second seed in the Southeast Region, held a lead for the majority of the second half. But its advantage was down to 66-65 after UCLA’s Joshua Smith connected on a layup with 1:34 remaining.
That’s when Walker took over.
After Vernon Macklin missed a layup and the Gators got a crucial offensive rebound, Walker canned a long three-pointer to give Florida some breathing room. Tyler Honeycutt missed a three at the other end, and the Gators came down with the rebound again. Walker added a pair from the line to put Florida up 71-65.
“I just tried to get the ball up on the rim and I was expecting a call,” Walker said of the three. “But I didn’t get it, and it luckily went in.”
Malcolm Lee had a chance to trim the Bruins’ deficit, but missed the first of a 1-and-1, and Walker sealed the win from the line with 20 ticks left on the clock.
Macklin added 10 points on 5-of-7 from the field for the Gators (28-7), who will face third-seeded BYU Thursday in New Orleans. Kenny Boynton scored 12 points for the victors, despite rolling his ankle late in the game while defending a UCLA three-point attempt.
Smith paced seventh-seeded UCLA (23-11) with 16 points and six rebounds. Reeves Nelson added 16 points and 11 boards, while Lee scored 14 in the loss.
“I think, you know, in this game we missed too many easy lay-ups, too many open shots, too many free throws, turnovers and bad decisions at the wrong time,” Honeycutt said.
This was the third meeting between these schools, all commencing in the NCAA Tournament, including Florida’s victory in the 2006 National Championship game.
Florida held a 35-33 lead at the break, and after trading baskets to open the half Lee’s layup 2 1/2 minutes in tied the game at 39.
Neither team was able to pull away until consecutive three’s from Boynton and Erik Murphy gave the Gators a 61-55 lead with 5:49 remaining. Florida held its edge until a Honeycutt three at 2:34 made it 66-63, leading to Smith’s layup and Walker’s impressive final minutes.
The game remained back-and-forth in the opening part of the first half, and after a pair of Nelson free throws at the midpoint the Bruins held a 21-17 lead.
Chandler Parsons connected on a jumper on Florida’s next possession to start a 9-2 run. Patric Young came up with a huge block on a Nelson dunk attempt and connected on a jam of his own with six minutes remaining to cap the run, giving Florida a 26-23 advantage.
The Bruins took the lead again with a pair of Honeycutt free throws and a Lazeric Jones jumper with four minutes remaining, putting the game at 29-28. But the Gators took a 35-33 lead into the break.
Florida shot 56 percent from the field in the first half, and despite only shooting 42 percent from the field and 1-of-5 from beyond the arc the Bruins kept the game close by holding a 20-10 rebounding advantage and making 10- of-15 from the line.
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