TAMPA, Fla. -- Florida’s NCAA tournament drought is over.
The Gators, who hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game since winning back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007, blasted No. 15 seed UC Santa Barbara 79-51 in a Southeast Regional second-round game at St. Pete Times Forum on Thursday night.
Florida, the SEC regular-season champion, had their way with the overmatched Gauchos from the start. The Gators shot 54.7 percent from the floor and out-rebounded UC Santa Barbara, 34-22.
No. 2 seed Florida advanced to play No. 5 seed West Virginia in Saturday’s third round.
Turning point: When the teams loaded up the buses and drove to St. Pete Times Forum on Thursday. The Gauchos were overwhelmed from the start, as Florida led by as many as 25 points in the first half. Florida shot 58.1 percent in the first half, including 5-for-14 on 3-pointers, and had a 43-19 lead at the half.
Player of the game: Florida senior Chandler Parsons nearly became the ninth player to record a triple-double in an NCAA tournament game, finishing with 10 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. Parsons, who was named the SEC player of the year, might have accomplished the rare feat if he hadn’t spent the last several minutes of the game on the bench. Parsons would have joined rare company, including the likes of Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Dwayne Wade.
Key stat: 22 assists. The Gators had 22 assists on 29 baskets with 13 turnovers.
Miscellaneous: Four of Florida’s starters reached double figures in scoring. Along with Parsons, guards Erving Walker (18 points, six assists) and Kenny Boynton (13 points, four steals) and center Vernon Macklin (10 points) scored 10 points or more. Starting forward Alex Tyus had eight points. Guard Orlando Johnson led the Gauchos with 21 points on 7-for-14 shooting.
What’s next: Florida’s advances to Saturday’s third round, where it will face the winner of Thursday night’s game between No. 7 seed UCLA and No. 10 seed Michigan State. UC Santa Barbara closes the season with an 18-14 record.