“Did you watch the Florida game last night?” a family friend asked me earlier today. She knew the answer before she asked.
Of course I did.
Now, I am a little ashamed to admit that I slept through the majority of the first half. I fell asleep twenty minutes until tip off, and woke up to find there were four minutes left in the first half, and my Gators were losing. It didn’t take me long to figure out things hadn’t gone our way, and we had to clean things up if we wanted to walk away with a W. The guys must have known it too, because that was right around the time when the team came alive and balls began swishing through the hoop. The Gators went into the half with a 34-32 lead, and momentum for the second half.
That wind stayed in our sails for most of half number two, as we stayed hot and balls continued to rain through the hoop. Junior KeVaughn Allen led the dominance; after starting slowly, he came away with a UF record 35 points in an NCAA Tournament Match. There was also stellar defense: with less than ten minutes half, at least three Wisconsin starters were in foul trouble, giving Florida a major advantage heading into the last few minutes of regulation. The win was so close, we could taste it.
But then, Wisconsin came storming back, scoring a much needed three pointer to tie the game and send it into what would become an overtime that will be remembered long after this tournament ends.
There were four seconds left on the clock. We were down 81-83, and no timeouts to stop the clock and draw up a play. If we didn’t somehow get a basket, this game-and our season- would be over. This was it.
Canyon Barry threw the ball to Chris Chiozza, and what happened next is why this tournament is called March Madness. Chiozza took the ball, flew down the court, and, with the clock about to hit zero, threw it toward the basket from behind the three point line.
It went in.
The Florida bench-and all of Gator Nation- went ballistic. We had survived to play another game, and our magical post season ride continues. Next up is the South Carolina Gamecocks, who we’ve played twice this season. The series is even, with each team winning at home. They beat us by four in Columbia, and we returned the favor in Gainesville, winning by fifteen points. It’s an even match up, with both teams playing the best ball they have all season. South Carolina no doubt wants revenge for what happened in February, but so does Chris Chiozza, who scored only four points in Florida’s loss to the Gamecocks.
In other words: game on.
My keys to today’s game are very similiar to what they were last game, with the addition of two things: free throws and aggressive play. We missed a few at the line that would’ve made the game a lot less nerve wracking had they gone in. And we must play aggressively all game. If we let up at the end against South Carolina the way we did against Wisconsin, it will come back to bite us. We’re playing hot right now, but so are they. We need to shoot aggressively and defend aggressively the entire game. If we do, we’re headed to Glendale, Arizona for the Final Four next weekend.