MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Out of the mouths of Bruin babes.
UCLA freshmen Zach LaVine and Bryce Alford decompressed in the locker room, a long day of chasing without reward over. LaVine looked up at Alford and said, "Man, no more games. No practice tomorrow. No meetings. It's just over."
Alford just nodded.
Finality gave clarity even to the young. UCLA could go this far and no further.
Florida was bigger, deeper, more experienced.
Florida was ready to move on. A 79-68 victory over UCLA in FedEx Forum on Thursday made that clear. Anything the Bruins did, the Gators did better.
UCLA was not ready. Close, maybe, but not ready. The top-ranked Gators (35-2) won their 29th consecutive game and will play Dayton on Saturday in the NCAA South Regional final. The Bruins were headed home after dropping to 0-4 in the NCAA tournament against Florida.
"This is not a good feeling," senior forward David Wear said.
The Bruins tried to do everything they had done in previous postseason games. Right down to the last UCLA run, Florida had an answer.
Norman Powell's layup with 10 minutes left pulled UCLA to within 56-55. All through the postseason, be it the Pac-12 tournament or this NCAA show, the Bruins had forced others to accept their will.
"I thought we were going to get over the hump," senior forward Travis Wear said. "Whenever we've gone on runs like that, we've been able to get past teams, put them in our rearview mirror. To look up and realize we're still down after having momentum shift our way, it was a little tough to handle."
At 56-55, UCLA point guard Kyle Anderson went to the bench. Florida's Scottie Wilbekin stayed in the game. The Gators went on a 10-0 run, including a Wilbekin three-pointer and a three-point play.
"That's what you expect out of your senior point guard," Anderson said of Wilbekin."
Wilbekin, who missed 10 of his first 12 shots, made his last three, the finale on a high bank shot over out-stretched hands that gave the Gators a 70-63 lead with 1 minute 35 seconds left.
"Scottie McBuckets, if you want to call him that," Florida center Patric Young said. "We trust him and know that he is going to make it happen."
This is what the Gators had that the Bruins lacked. A little faith.
It came from a team that has four seniors, who have had success in their college careers. This will be Florida's fourth consecutive regional final.
It has become habit, but, "it's not enough for us," Florida forward Will Yeguete said.
The Bruins were far from satisfied, but they had not the wherewithal to extend their season.
"I think we are at that level," David Wear said. "I think we're just a young team."
The youth was showing.
The Bruins shot 42% and made only three of 18 three points. Florida was a steady 50%. The bigger Gators had a 40-30 rebound advantage.
"We were getting good looks, they just weren't going in," David Wear said. "If they had, it would have been completely different."
It was different, and that wasn't a good thing for UCLA.
The Bruins were far from the offensive Wild West show that had stampeded teams in the postseason. UCLA had three assists in the first half and trailed, 36-30. It was the first time the Bruins were behind at halftime during the postseason.
UCLA went on a 7-0 run to cut a nine-point Florida to 28-26 before . Michael Frazier began dropping three-pointers for the Gators. He was five for eight during the game.
In the second half, UCLA trailed, 50-39, and again scored seven points in a row. Again, Florida answered.
It was getting annoying … to the Bruins.
"They are extremely poised," David Wear said. "They hold the ball until they see a shot they feel is the right one. They don't take a lot of bad shots. They rarely have a bad possession. On defense, they had each other's backs. You could see the experience."
Something the Bruins expected.
"We knew they wouldn't fold under pressure," Powell said.
The Bruins finally did.
Said Anderson: "I guess you've got to credit Florida."
Which is why the Gators will have practice today.
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