OMAHA, Neb. — About 15 minutes after Florida's second-round NCAA Tournament game Friday, the players were sitting in the locker room when highlights of their 71-45 victory over Virginia aired on CBS.
There, front and center, was Casey Prather slamming down an alley-oop from Erving Walker.
The locker room erupted. It was both a celebration of the victory and acknowledgement of a breakout performance for Prather, who had a career-high 14 points and four rebounds.
This from a 6-foot-6 sophomore swingman who entered averaging 3.9 minutes and 1.5 points and scored just 15 points over his past 16 games.
"I'm very, very happy for Casey," said coach Billy Donovan, whose Gators on Sunday face 15th-seeded Norfolk State after it upset second-seeded Missouri 86-84.
"Whether he has played two minutes, not gotten in the game or 15, he is the same kid every single day. He has stayed the course as a player and tried to figure out how to get better and how to improve. And he gave us a huge lift."
Prather's performance was critical for a multitude of reasons. The Gators (24-10), the West's No. 7 seed, couldn't hit a shot from the outside, and their only legitimate post players, Erik Murphy and center Patric Young, were in foul trouble.
Murphy picked up his second with 5:23 left in the first half, and Young picked up his second and third within 29 seconds and went to the bench 1:35 into the second half.
Florida made just 4 of 23 3-pointers (17.4 percent) but held 10th-seeded Virginia (22-10) to 3-of-18 (16.7 percent) and 38.3 percent from the field. Its leading scorer, Mike Scott, had 15 points and six rebounds but went without a field goal for a span of 12:23 during the second half.
The Gators outscored the Cavaliers 44-24 in the paint and had 12 second-chance points to the Cavaliers' zero. The 45 points are the fewest Florida allowed in an NCAA Tournament game.
"Certainly, we were thoroughly outplayed," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. "I told our guys I felt like we were better than we showed, but certainly, I give the credit to Florida. They were the aggressor. They got the ball either in the paint or to the paint, and we didn't have an answer."
Florida trailed early but used a 17-4 run to close the first half and lead 30-22. It missed its first 13 3-pointers. But in the second half, the Gators shot 69.6 percent from the floor with Prather and freshman guard Bradley Beal combining for 19 points.
"I just focused on the game and what I could do to help the team," Prather said. "The coaches kept telling me to stay the course and my time would come. I guess (Friday) was a good time for me to come."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]