Saturday, November 25, 2017
Sports

NCAA Tournament matchup between Florida Gators and Virginia Cavaliers is contrast of styles

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OMAHA, Neb. — It's a formula that has served Virginia very well all season. And the Cavaliers see absolutely no reason to change now.

So the plan for today's second-round NCAA Tournament game is force Florida to slow its up-tempo offense and demand it work for every shot.

"Our two systems are going to clash," said senior forward Mike Scott, Virginia's leading scorer and rebounder.

"They like to get up and down the court, shoot quick off the shot clock. We like to slow it down. So we're going to impose our game plan, and they're going to do the same."

Call it a battle of contrasting styles.

Florida (23-10), which scores 76.3 points per game and thrives on up-tempo play, and Virginia (22-9), which is second in the nation in scoring defense at 53.7 points per game (while scoring 63.1 points per game).

"We want to always play our pace going fast, but we've got to be prepared to play their style and grind it out if it comes to that," Florida senior guard Erving Walker said.

Said junior guard Kenny Boynton: "This year, we have seen every defense I think you can. And with our offense and the type of players that we have, we can adjust to any type of defense."

Florida's challenge will be Virginia's pack-the-line defense, designed to make 3-point shooters such as Boynton, Walker and Bradley Beal fight for every shot.

"It's a position defense, and it relies on being in good position with good pressure on the ball," said Virginia coach Tony Bennett, who has his team to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his three-year tenure.

"Whether it's guarding the 3-point line, the thing is to make opponents shoot contested 3s. When we have played it well, our defense has been good. This year, it's been solid. Florida will test you with their speed and their ability to stretch it. But our challenge is making them shoot contested shots."

That could be easier if Walker and Boynton continue to struggle. Gators coach Billy Donovan said good shooting in March is critical, but Boynton and Walker are a combined 15-of-56 from the field and 9-of-33 from 3-point range in three games in March (including two in the SEC tournament).

If Boynton and Walker aren't on, it puts more pressure on the frontcourt, notably center Patric Young, who is expected to draw defending Scott. If they are on, it will force Virginia to pick its poison.

"I think our frontcourt has a great challenge. Scott is certainly one of the most unique players in the country," Donovan said. "He's a great, great midrange shooter. They have a good balance, and our frontcourt has a challenge.

"But I think Patric has had a good week."

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected] Read her blog at tampabay.com/blogs/gators.

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