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Florida 61, Pittsburgh 45

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Scottie Wilbekin scored 13 of his 21 points in the last eight minutes to help the top-seeded Florida Gators pull away to a 61-45 victory over Pittsburgh in the third round of the NCAA Tournament at Amway Arena.

Guard Michael Frazier II added 10 points for the Gators, who advance to the Sweet 16 at Memphis.

Patrick Young, who was shut out in the first half, finished with seven points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots to spark a punishing defensive effort by Florida.

Forward Talib Zanna led Pittsburgh with 10 points. He was the only Panther (25-6) to reach double figures against a dominating defensive effort by the Gators, who limited Pitt to 37.3 percent shooting.

Forward Lamar Patterson and guard Josh Newkirk each scored eight points the Panthers.

Wilbekin started his game-ending run with a 3-pointer, the only shot the Gators made from outside the paint in the second half, to give Florida a 45-31 lead.

The Gators senior point guard then concentrated on drives to the basket, including four straight layups, most with the shot clock about to expire, to keep Pitt from gaining any momentum.

Zanna got the first basket of the second half for Pitt, but the Gators responded with a 7-0 run to go ahead, 34-24.

Young, who was 0-for-5 in the first half, had five of those points, including a thunderous dunk off a feed from forward Casey Prather that made it 34-24 with 16:01 left in the game.

The Gator defense took Pitt’s starting backcourt of James Robinson and Cameron Wright completely out of the game for the first 30 minutes. They were a combined 0-for-11 with four turnovers and four assists before Robinson finally got on the board with a free throw with 10:50 to play.

Wright, who started the game 0-for-7, scored an open layup and followed with a 3-pointer to break that streak and get Pitt to within 47-36 with 7:29 left in the game.

The Panthers grabbed the momentum when Zanna converted inside to get the deficit down to 49-41 with 5:31 left in the game, but the moment didn’t last.

Wilbekin made a tough runner in the lane, Prather stole the ball at the other end and Wilbekin beat the shot clock with another driving layup to give Florida a 53-41 lead with 4:06 to play.

He had two more driving layups before leaving the game in the final minute with a sore thigh.

Wilbelkin hit a running 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to give Florida a 27-22 lead that matched the biggest advantage either team had in a spirited first half.

Both teams came out with aggressive man-to-man defenses that did not give the opposition room or open shots. The Gators’ defense forced Pitt to take shots with less than five seconds on the shot clock on five straight possessions.

Pitt did not make it any easier at the other end, pushing Florida’s guards well beyond the 3-point line, while making the inside almost inaccessible for Young and forward Will Yeguete.

The shooting percentages for the half — Florida hit 40.7 percent and Pitt shot 40 percent — reflected the quality of defense played by both teams.

There were eight lead changes and three ties in the first 14 minutes of the half and it was not until guard Michael Frazier hit a 3-pointer with 4:08 left in the half to give Florida a 20-15 lead that either team went ahead by more than one possession.

Wilbekin’s buzzer-beater gave him eight points and made him the top scorer at halftime. Pitt forward Lamar Patterson led the Panthers with seven, while three teammates each had four points.

NOTES: The Gators are 20-0 this season in games played in Florida. … This is the second time this season Pitt has faced the No. 1 team in the country. The Panthers lost to then No. 1-ranked Syracuse, 58-56, on Feb. 12. … The Panthers’ 29-point victory over Colorado Thursday was their biggest winning margin ever in an NCAA game, beating a 26-point win (87-61) over Wagner in 2003. … Pitt and Florida have played seven times with the Panthers holding a 4-3 edge.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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