Virginia's defense entered the second round of the NCAA Tournament as the best in the country.
It wasn't even the best on the Amway Center court Saturday.
Fourth-seeded Florida held Virginia to 29.6 percent shooting in a 65-39 rout. UF (26-8) advances to the Sweet 16 for the 11th time in program history and the fifth since 2011. It faces eighth-seeded Wisconsin in New York on Friday after the Badgers' 65-62 upset win over the East Region's top seed, Villanova.
"That's about as well as we've played defensively," second-year Gators coach Mike White said.
And it's better than they've ever played on this stage. UF set a school tournament record for fewest points allowed; its previous low also came in the second round on this floor, three years ago against Pittsburgh.
That allowed UF to out-defend a defense that led the country in fewest points and field goals allowed and earn a trip to Madison Square Garden. The fifth-seeded Cavaliers (23-11) had some of their trademark lock-down abilities, too, as UF's top two scorers struggled for the second game in a row. Two nights after shooting 2-of-15 against East Tennessee State, Canyon Barry and KeVaughn Allen combined to miss 11 of their 14 shots.
It didn't matter, because Florida's defense is ranked fourth nationally in stat guru Ken Pomeroy's advanced metrics for a reason.
"These guys really, really guarded to give us a chance," White said.
The Gators' length plagued Virginia, and UF was content to let the Cavaliers try to shoot outside. The plan worked: A Virginia team prone to scoring droughts missed 14 of its 15 3-pointers. Leading scorer London Perrantes was 2-of-12 shooting, and Virginia missed 20 of its 28 shots in the first half.
"If we're not shooting well, it's hard for us," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said.
They shot poorest in one scoreless stretch that spanned almost eight minutes around halftime. UF capitalized with a game-defining 21-0 run —14 of those points came by forward Justin Leon, who sparked the team by scoring eight in a row late in the half.
Leon and forward Devin Robinson both starred against a Virginia lineup that lacked starting forward Isaiah Wilkins (illness). Leon finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Robinson, who scored 24 points in Thursday's Tournament opener, picked up right where he left off.
He drained a pair of early buckets and had a momentum-stealing hustle play when he snagged a defensive rebound and pushed the ball ahead. Gorjok Gak finished the possession with a dunk to break a 13-13 tie. UF never trailed again.
Robinson's numbers — 14 points, 11 defensive rebounds — don't accurately sum up a defensive impact that has been big reason for the Gators' run to the Sweet 16.
"My early years, I didn't really believe in playing defensive effectively," Robinson said. "But I know if you want to win games and try to win a championship, you have to play defense."
The Gators certainly did Saturday, to keep their shot at a championship alive.
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.