|St. Bonaventure advances to play up-and-down Florida|
After beating the most decorated program in college basketball history Tuesday, St. Bonaventure advances in East Region play to face one of the most consistent NCAA Tournament teams of the past decade Thursday at American Airlines Center in Dallas.
The Bonnies (26-7) used a 12-0 second-half run Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio, to deny UCLA a rematch 11 years in the making with two-time Final Four opponent Florida.
Instead, St. Bonaventure continues its own March story almost a half-century in the making. The 65-58 win over UCLA in the First Four marked the Bonnies' first NCAA Tournament win since 1970, when they played in the Final Four.
"In 1970, Bob Lanier got hurt, (and) he didn't have a chance to play UCLA," Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt said in his postgame interview on truTV. "This one is for him."
St. Bonaventure's win Tuesday was not just its first in the Tournament since 1970, but also marked No. 26 on the season -- one more than the previous program-best set in that same 1970 campaign.
NCAA Tournament wins have not eluded Florida in recent years.
The Gators (20-12) won a pair of national championships in 2006 and 2007, and last season came just a few minutes shy of advancing to their fourth Final Four in 11 years. Despite the loss to SEC counterpart South Carolina a season ago, Florida's run in the 2017 Tournament marked the program's fifth straight Elite Eight appearance, and first under coach Mike White.
Continuing that streak will require the Gators finding consistency that they have lacked in the latter half of the 2017-18 season. Florida lost 5 of 7 from Jan. 30 through Feb. 21, but rallied to win its final three of the regular season.
That streak ended in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament with an 80-72 loss to Arkansas on March 9. The Gators were coming off a six-day layoff at the conclusion of the regular season and received a double-bye.
"We thought it would be better for us to rest up and get a couple guys back healthy," said Florida guard Chris Chiozza in the postgame press conference. "They had a couple games here, and ... kind of had their mojo with them already."
It is a scenario similar to that facing Florida on Thursday. The Gators will again have had six days off, while St. Bonaventure plays its third game in five days -- in its third city, to boot.
The Bonnies bowed out of the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament in Washington, D.C., on March 10, traveled to Dayton for Tuesday's clash with UCLA, and make a quick turnaround in Dallas on Thursday.
If St. Bonaventure has any momentum to carry over on its flight, it comes from the hot hand of guard Courtney Stockard, who scored 26 points in the First Four win after having missed the conference tournament loss to Davidson due to injury.
"For two years he didn't e second of basketball," Schmidt said of Stockard, who was sidelined for the previous two seasons by a foot injury. "For him to come back and have a day like today, it's a credit to him, but he's the reason why we won."
As crucial to the Bonnies' win was a tenacious defensive effort, particularly in the paint. St. Bonaventure held UCLA center Thomas Welsh to two points.
"We played the same defense all year," Stockard said in the postgame press conference. "UCLA is a good offensive team, high-scoring team. But ... we did a good job taking away their knowns, making them take contested shots."
Conversely, Florida forward Keith Stone is coming off one of his best offensive performances of the season. Stone is not one of the four Gators who averaged in double figures during the regular season, but his 22 points against Arkansas point to the balanced scoring punch this Florida team can pack.
"That's a pretty good sign," White said of Stone's performance in the postgame press conference March 9. "We think he's got a chance to be a very good player. For him, it's about finding that consistency."