ORLANDO— Scottie Wilbekin, who finished with a game-high 21 points, scored 12 of top-ranked Florida’s 14 points during a second half run in which the Gators put away No. 9 seed Pitt, 61-45, to advance to the Sweet 16 for the fourth year in a row.
Florida (34-2) extended its school record winning streak to 28 straight. The Gators and the Panthers had last met in the 1992 NIT but looked like familiar foes the way the two traded punches in the physical contest.
The Gators extended their streak of consecutive Sweet 16 appearances to four in a row, the nation’s longest current stretch. Ohio State had reached the round of 16 four straight years before this March abut lost to Dayton in the second round.
Wilbekin and Michael Frazier (10 points) were the only Florida players in double figures while Talib Zanna had 10 for Pitt. The Panthers were held under 50 points for the fourth time this season _ all losses. The Panthers (26-10) had a season-low 43 vs. Cincinnati.
As expected, Pitt started out making the game physical in the lanes and focused on shutting off the 3-point lane for Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier.
There were nine lead changes in the first 10 minutes of the contest as the teams traded punches against tough defensive units. Pitt took its largest first half lead on a 3-pointer by Josh Newkirk, 13-10 at 10:33.
Frazier and Wilbekin got going a little bit from there. Frazier tied it back up with a three, Kasey Hill scored off a drive and Frazier made another bucket behind the arc for a 20-15 Gators lead at 4:08.
From there, Lamar Patterson had a couple of baskets, pulling the Panthers within 22-20 on a 3-pointer.
It remained a two-point game until Wilbekin’s basket at the halftime buzzer matched UF’s largest margin to that point at 27-22. Florida came into the game 23-0 when leading at the break this season.
It was the lowest point total a team had against the defensive minded Gators since Texas A&M was held to 17 on Nov. 1.
The Panthers made just 2 of 12 shots from the field to open the second half as Florida edged ahead, taking the first double digit lead at 34-24 after a couple of inside baskets by Patric young and a third by Will Yeguete.
Florida pushed the lead to 49-36 but Pitt scored five straight points to tighten it back up with under six minutes left.
Wilbekin had a drive in the lane and an off-balance 10-foot runner to get it back to double digits. The Panthers couldn’t get closer than eight points the rest of the way as Wilbekin took over from there.