MEMPHIS — During Florida's pregame shootaround Thursday afternoon, coach Billy Donovan called sophomore guard Michael Frazier aside and told him he needed to shoot with more confidence. Frazier, a prolific 3-point shooter, was just 3-of-13 from beyond the arc in the Gators' first two NCAA Tournament games.
On Thursday night, Frazier went 5-of-8 from 3-point range and scored a game-high 19 to lead the Gators to a 79-68 victory over UCLA in the NCAA South Region semifinals in front of 14,991 at FedExForum.
The Gators, the No. 1 overall seed, play No. 11 Dayton — an 82-72 winner over Stanford — at 6:09 p.m. Saturday in the South Region final. It's Florida's fourth straight trip to the Elite Eight. Dayton advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1984.
"It feels great," said senior guard Scottie Wilbekin, who scored eight of Florida's 10 points during a four-minute stretch late in the game to help seal the win. "Our goal tonight was to get to the Elite Eight. Now we have to put this behind us. Every team now is good, so we have to be locked in."
Florida (35-2) is trying to advance to its first Final Four since 2007 — the year the Gators won a second consecutive national title. UF improved its winning streak to 29 games.
Thursday's contest marked the 15th NCAA Tournament game played by Florida seniors Wilbekin and Patric Young, tying the UF record held by Lee Humphrey and Chris Richard.
With his five 3-pointers in the game, Frazier broke Humphrey's school season record of 113 set twice, in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons.
"Coach pulled aside and told me to shoot it with confidence, and I just tried to take good ones tonight and they were able to fall through," Frazier said.
Thursday night's game was the fourth NCAA Tournament meeting between the Gators and Bruins since 2006, and Florida has won them all.
"From a team aspect, I think we've done a great job of just staying in the moment and just trying to chase greatness," Frazier said. "When you do that, complacency isn't a factor, so I think we've done a great job all year of just staying in the moment and chasing greatness."
"We're bowing out of this tournament, but we got beat by an outstanding team," UCLA coach Steve Alford said.
Florida led 36-30 at halftime, shooting 41 percent from the field, while allowing the Bruins (28-9) to shoot 44 percent. But the Gators shot 6-of-6 from the field to open the second half and took a 50-39 lead with 15:48 remaining in the game.
But as they did in the first half, the Bruins kept coming back, going on a 7-0 run to pull within 50-46 with 13:34 remaining.
And then came trouble for the Gators when Young picked up his fourth foul with 10:16 remaining. UCLA managed to pull within 56-55 with 10 minutes remaining, but Florida answered with a 10-0 run and UCLA could never take the lead.
"I thought our guys were able to stay the course," Donovan said. "It was a team effort, at different points and times different guys stepped up to help us win."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]