Dana O'Neil, ESPN Senior Writer 239d

Chris Chiozza's game winner shows Florida has some poise too

NEW YORK -- Mike White used an extremely technical term to explain how his team used to react when faced with pressure situations.

“We’d freak out,’’ the Florida coach said.

And yet in the freakiest of freaky situations, with four seconds left in overtime, with a shot at the Elite Eight on the line in no less a building than venerable Madison Square Garden, the Gators did the exact opposite of freak out.

Chris Chiozza masterfully executed a full-court push, covering the 75 feet of real estate between one baseline and the opposite 3-point line, inching the tiptoe of his sneaker to the very edge of the painted line of the arc before letting go a sweet prayer of a floater.

The ball slipped through the net, the horn sounded, the Garden went bonkers and then, and only then, did the Gators freak out.

While officials checked the replay to confirm that Chiozza's toe was behind the line, Florida assembled in the far corner of the court in a scrum of amazed jubilation.

The public address announcement saying the shot was indeed a 3 got lost in the din as Florida, 10 years after winning its second national title, celebrated its crazy -- even freaky -- 84-83 overtime win against Wisconsin that put the Gators in the regional final.

"God blessed me with great speed," Chiozza said with a smirk. "I knew I could get to the other end of the court and get someone else a shot or myself a shot."

That sort of preconceived notion, though, sounds a lot simpler than it really is. How many times this season -- heck, in this tournament? -- have players misjudged what amount of space they could and could not cover when there were but a few ticks left? Some opted for unnecessary hero shots when there was plenty of time for a better look; others tried to get too far in too short a time, heaving a shot too late and leaving their teams' hopes in the dust.

Not Chiozza. He timed it perfectly, knowing his speed would allow him to get further than the average point guard. White said the general thinking is one dribble per second, but Chiozza is fully aware that his motor gets him an extra bounce or two.

He used every single sliver of the clock, every last bounce of the ball, taking the inbounds pass from Canyon Barry and pushing hard against Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes. Chiozza knew Hayes wouldn't want to foul him, but he also recognized Hayes wasn't about to let him get to the rim for an easy tie. So Chiozza took what was available.

"He did a good job of bumping me and slowing me down," Chiozza said. "That was the only shot I had."

For the final minutes of regulation plus the bulk of overtime, that sort of Wisconsin smarts, built on the backbone of a lot of March experience, seemed like it would do in the Gators. The Badgers, after all, were making their fourth consecutive Sweet 16 appearance, while Florida was coming off an NIT appearance, preceded by a 16-17 season.

And when Zak Showalter, scoreless in the first half, drained a 3-pointer to force overtime, it definitely was advantage experience. Showalter was the only option, really, with Vitto Brown on the bench, already fouled out, and Bronson Koenig hobbling around on one leg, done in by late-game cramps in his hamstring. So naturally, the Badgers would not only take the one viable option they had; they'd make it work, with Showalter muscling past Chiozza for the OT-forcing 3 with two seconds to go.

As the Gators assembled for the pre-overtime huddle, White looked at his players. He called the shot "deflating."

Equally deflating was the five-point lead the Badgers built with less than a minute left in overtime. Yet, a Florida team led by a second-year coach in White, one charged with replacing a legend (Billy Donovan), and with little to go on for March notes, executed down the stretch better than even the experienced Badgers.

Up two points in overtime, Wisconsin's Hayes slung a perfect baseball pass to a wide-open Khalil Iverson for what should have, by all rights, been the final nail in the coffin of a layup. Instead Barry, known more for his underhanded free throws than his defensive prowess, came out of nowhere and blocked the easy layup, keeping Florida's hopes alive.

Seconds later, Chiozza barreled down the court.

"We kept our composure," White said. "We've matured so much. For Chris to have the wherewithal to know he can go the entire length of the court, that shows real poise and maturity."

Real poise, real maturity and not an ounce of freak out.

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