ORLANDO, Fla. — While the challenge only gets tougher moving forward, Florida basketball coach Mike White feels his team proved something to itself in opening the NCAA Tournament with a win over East Tennessee State on Thursday.
Now the No. 4-seeded Gators (25-8) will look to keep it rolling in a second-round matchup with No. 5 Virginia (23-10).
“We were coming into the first-round game just searching for a win, period,” White said. “And I feel like our guys have regained a little bit of confidence. Of course, Virginia is an even better team. It’s an even tougher scouting report, but we’re at least on a one-game winning streak.”
Florida, which had lost three of its previous four games, earned an 80-65 win over ETSU in its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014. Forward Devin Robinson led the way with 24 points while point guards Chris Chiozza and Kasey Hill chipped in 14 each.
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That allowed the Gators to overcome sluggish performances from their top two scorers for the season as guards KeVaughn Allen (1-of-11 shooting) and Canyon Barry went for 7 points each.
The Gators will need to be at their best Saturday night against Virginia and its vaunted defense.
Florida and Virginia are meeting for the first time since the first round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament when the Gators seized a 71-45 win.
For what it’s worth, Florida has won its last six second-round tournament games.
But Hill is the only player left from the program’s last NCAA Tournament run. For the rest of the guys, the win Thursday was a long-awaited breakthrough and there is still plenty left to prove.
“It was very enjoyable. It’s a moment I’ve been waiting for for a long time,” Chiozza said. “Getting that first game out of he way and being able to win it felt great, but we’ve got another game (Saturday). After we left (Thursday night) we just (were) focused on this game coming up tomorrow.”
What time is tip-off?
The game is scheduled for 8:40 p.m. ET inside the Amway Center.
What TV channel is showing the Florida-Virginia game?
The game will be televised on TNT and can be streamed online here.
Who is calling the Florida-Virginia game?
Ian Eagle is on the play-by-play call, Steve Lavin is the analyst and Evan Washburn is the in-game reporter.
Looking at Virginia
Virginia has gone 7-7 in its last 14 games and had to overcome a 15-point deficit Thursday to get past UNC Wilmington, 76-71, in the opening round of the tournament.
But the Cavaliers are always a tough obstacle with their stingy defense, allowing the fewest points in the country at 56.1 per game.
The Cavs are led by senior point guard London Perrantes, who averages 12.9 points per contest and scored a game-high 24 in that win Thursday.
Perrantes is Virginia’s only player with a double-figures scoring average as the team’s methodical offensive approach and that stifling defense often lead to low-scoring games. He’s the guy that gets the Cavs going, though.
“What’s really impressive about him, really he’s a microcosm of all of them, in my opinion, both offensively and defensively, in that they’re just so sound,” White said. “They just take good shots. They make good decisions. They don’t break down defensively. … He just makes big plays, plays with a lot of confidence, with a lot of savvy.”
The Cavs also got a big boost from Marial Shayok on Thursday as he scored a career-high 23 points.
They will likely be without 6-foot-7 forward Isaiah Wilkins, who was limited to 5 minutes in that game and is considered doubtful to play Saturday due to a lingering illness.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett said Florida’s speed is his biggest concern in the matchup, and as usual, the Cavs will look to limit their opponent’s opportunities for easy points in transition.
“We’ll have to do what we always do,” Bennett said. “We’re going to have to get it to our kind of game in terms of making them play against a set defense, make them shoot the majority of the shots contested shots, take care of the ball. We’re going to have to move them. We’re going to have to screen them, move them, knock down some outside shots. … It’s just going to kind of be a war of attrition. I know they’re going to try to get their style and can we outlast them? Not many secrets about this one.”