Saturday, March 25, 2017

UF Basketball: Chris Chiozza Sends No. 4 Florida to the Elite 8!!!

In all my years of watching Florida Gator basketball, tonight's Sweet 16 contest in Madison Square Garden was by far the greatest Florida basketball game that I have ever watched. With a spot in the Elite 8 at stake, the No. 4 Florida Gators (27-8) used a buzzer beater from junior guard Chris Chiozza to defeat the No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers (27-10) by a score of 84-83 in overtime!

The Final Two Minutes of Regulation
This game remained tight throughout as neither team could really pull away despite them both having double-digit leads at one point. With under two minutes to go in the game, Florida sported a 70-62 lead. All they needed to do was execute offensively and chip in a few defensive stops to punch their ticket to the Elite 8.

After cutting it to 70-64, Wisconsin fouled senior point guard Kasey Hill with 1:44 remaining. Hill sank both his free throws to up the score to 72-64 before Wisconsin's Bronson Koenig nailed a three-pointer to make it 72-67.

After a Badger timeout, Florida killed 28 seconds off the clock but came up empty on their offensive possession as Kasey Hill missed a layup with just over a minute remaining. Wisconsin then missed a three-pointer, but Badger forward Ethan Happ got the offensive board and laid it up to cut the score to 72-69 with 44 seconds to go.

Florida took the ball up and called timeout with 37 seconds remaining. They needed just one bucket to put this game away. Coming out of the timeout, Chris Chiozza drove the lane with 18 seconds to go and kicked it to sophomore center Kevarrius Hayes

Hayes could not get a handle on the ball and Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes came up with the steal. The Badgers now had a chance to tie it with the clock winding down. At the six-second mark, they called timeout to devise a potential game-tying three. Florida now needed just one stop for an Elite 8 berth.

Coming out of the timeout, it looked like Wisconsin did not get a good look as Zak Showalter floated up a three-pointer with time winding down. With 2.5 seconds on the clock, the ball swished through the net to knot the game up at 72. At first it appeared that Showalter had taken a two, but replays showed he was indeed behind the line and the basket was a three-pointer.

Deflated, the Gators called timeout to plan their desperation heave. This would be to no avail as the Gators did not even get a game-wining shot attempt up as time expired. In fact, it was Wisconsin who got the game-winning opportunity as D'Mitrik Trice intercepted the baseball pass and threw up a half court prayer at the buzzer. It was to no avail, and March Madness would finally get its first overtime game.

In OT, the Gators were flat for the first three-minutes. Florida did lead early after KeVaughn Allen split his free throws, but after that Wisconsin went on an 8-2 run. The outcome was starting to look grim after Florida missed three straight three-pointers on one offensive possession down 77-73.

After a Nigel Hayes free throw made it 78-73 with 1:40 left in OT, the Gators needed some offensive spark. Enter SEC Sixth-Man of the Year Canyon Barry. The graduate transfer hit a reverse layup to cut the lead to 78-75 with 1:34 to go.

After Chris Chiozza got hit with a questionable foul call with 1:09 remaining, Florida looked dead in the water as Zak Showalter sank both his free throws to up the score to 80-75. The Gators scored in a hurry as KeVaughn Allen made a layup to cut the lead to 80-77. After Allen's score, Wisconsin was back on the line with 41 seconds to go. Ethan Happ split the free throws and now Florida was down four with less than 40 seconds in overtime.

Canyon Barry drove the lane and got fouled with 37 seconds to go. Florida's all-time leading free throw percentage leader needed to make these two to keep the season alive. Using his trademark underhand style that his dad taught him, Canyon sank both of his charity shots to make it 81-79. What happened next is perhaps the defensive play of the game.

As Wisconsin looked to inbound, they threw an outlet pass to Khalil Iverson. As Iverson drove to the basket, Canyon Barry tracked him down and blocked him from behind to force the turnover with 34 seconds left. Chris Chiozza was there for the defensive rebound, and a few moments later he scored an easy layup to knot things up at 81 a piece with 24 seconds remaining.

The Gators had rallied and tied it, now they needed to get a stop to force a second overtime. As opposed to fouling, the Orange and Blue chose to play this one out to the buzzer. As the clock wound down, Nigel Hayes drove on Justin Leon and drew a foul with four seconds remaining. Hayes would sink both of the shots, and it was now desperation time for Florida down 83-81.

Chiozza's Moment
Canyon Barry inbounded the ball to Chris Chiozza and the junior took off down the left sideline. He then ran back to center court and with 1.2 seconds remaining he threw up a floater from the top of the key. The final buzzer sounded and Florida's season was up in the air as the ball made its descent.

Chiozza had put the perfect amount of touch on his shot, as the ball swished right through the net for the game-winning three-pointer! This game was over! The Gators had won 84-83 and were on their way to the Elite 8!

Florida's Leading Men
Chris Chiozza's buzzer beater was obviously the highlight of the night (and possibly the tournament), but he was not the only Gator to play a role in this victory. Sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen scored a career-high 35 points against the Badgers as he shot 11 of 24 from the field.

Allen made 1/3 of his three-point attempts (4-12) while sinking 9 of his 10 free throws. He was on another level, and it was the kind of performance the Gators needed to beat an opponent like Wisconsin.

On the glass, Justin Leon and Kevarrius Hayes were huge. Leon hauled in eight rebounds (two offensive) while Hayes brought in seven (four offensive). Hayes had two blocks in the game as well and made 4 of his 9 free throw attempts.

Off the bench, Chris Chiozza gave Florida a solid 30 minutes that culminated into a buzzer beater to send the Gators to the Elite 8. The game-winning shot aside, Chiozza dished out a game-high five assists while scoring eight points on a 3 of 6 shooting effort.

As stated earlier, Canyon Barry was also huge in his 16 minutes of action. His two clutch free throws kept Florida alive and his block allowed Florida to score the game-tying bucket. Canyon finished with seven points on 2 of 4 shooting, made all three of his free throws, and of course had the biggest block of his career in overtime.

The last of the Gator bench I'll mention is true freshman center Gorjok Gak. Only seeing seven minutes of playing time, Gak had four offensive rebounds that resulted in six second-chance points for the Gators.

Wisconsin's Leading Men
In a tough (honestly heartbreaking) losing effort, all five of Wisconsin's starters scored in double figures. Senior forward Nigel Hayes went 7 of 11 shooting and scored a team-high 22 points with seven rebounds. He made a team-high 7 of his 14 free throw attempts. Redshirt sophomore forward Ethan Happ dropped 21 points on a 9 of 14 shooting effort while also corralling six boards.

Redshirt senior guard Zak Showalter's lone three-point attempt forced overtime, and was part of an incredible 4-6 shooting effort that resulted in 14 points with seven rebounds. Senior guard Bronson Koenig made the most three-pointers on the team (3-9) as he shot 4 for 13 on field goal attempts and scored 13 points.

Finally, senior forward Vitto Brown scored an even 10 points as he went 3 for 6 from the field and 2 of 4 from downtown.

Final Takeaway
I cannot describe the emotions my friends and I felt as we saw Chiozza's shot go in. It was surreal, unbelievable, magical, a full-blown miracle. For goodness sakes I was so excited that I ran outside of my buddy Matt's apartment and sprinted down the hallway in a frenzy. It was an incredible finish to one of the the greatest Gator basketball games in school history.

Before previewing Florida's Elite 8 matchup, here are my final tidbits on their unforgettable Sweet 16 victory:

  • This is Florida's ninth Elite 8 appearance in school history.
  • Florida is now 3-2 all-time against Wisconsin.
  • This is Florida's first postseason buzzer beater since Mike Miller's game-winner against Butler in the first round of the 2000 NCAA Tournament.
  • Florida is now 9-2 in the Sweet 16.
  • Florida is now 2-1 in overtime games this season.
  • TBS's announcers were legitimately terrible as they were essentially pulling for Wisconsin for a majority of the game.
  • Florida's biggest lead was 12 points (68-56 with 5:24 remaining in the second half) while Wisconsin's biggest lead was 11 points (24-13 with 7:49 remaining in the first half).

Looking Ahead
In the Elite 8, the No. 4 Florida Gators (27-8) will matchup with a very familiar SEC opponent as they face the No. 7 South Carolina Gamecocks (25-10). The Gators and Gamecocks split their season series as South Carolina won 57-53 in Columbia while Florida won 81-66 in Gainesville.

The Gamecocks come into their first ever Elite 8 feeling pretty good about themselves after crushing the No. 3 seeded Baylor Bears (27-8) by a score of 70-50. Florida, on the other hand, comes into this matchup on a cardiac note after their insane overtime win against Wisconsin. Now, a rubber match between these two conference foes will determine who will represent the SEC on one side of the Final Four.

This is going to be a great game between two teams who most of the country thought would not get this far. Tipoff is set for 2:20 p.m. on Sunday, March 26th. This unofficial SEC Championship can be seen on CBS and heard on the Gator IMG Sports Network.



No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.