ORLANDO — The only thing standing between Florida and the Sweet 16 is a showdown tonight against fifth-seeded Virginia and the No. 1 defense in college basketball.
Virginia (23-10) has held opponents to 56.1 points per game this season, additionally limiting their transition opportunities by committing only 9.5 turnovers per game, third-lowest in the country.
"It's a beautiful thing," said Gators coach Mike White, tasked with 48 hours to prepare for that defense in an East Region third-round matchup. "They just don't make mistakes. They sit down in the stance and shut you out. … They're extremely sound and disciplined. They're a strong team. They're a quick-footed team. They move great laterally. They've got great length. They block shots at the rim. There's not a deficiency defensively."
To counter that, the fourth-seeded Gators (26-8) offer a rare depth in today's college game that has seen eight players lead the team in scoring this season; Devin Robinson, who led Thursday's opening win against East Tennessee State with 24 points, did so for only the sixth time in 2016-17.
"They can't focus in on one person," said guard Chris Chiozza, who has led UF in scoring three times this season but ranks sixth on the team in points per game. "We can have a night where a guy off the bench goes for 25, or one of the starters goes for 25. … That's hard for a defense to prepare for because we have so many pieces that can contribute."
Pulling that off requires a chemistry and trust in their system — the flexibility to have so many players capable of scoring helps insulate the Gators from individual off nights, like leading scorer KeVaughn Allen had Thursday in going 1-for-11 from the field.
"It takes a special group to be able to be successful while that happens," White said. "KeVaughn's not hanging his head right now. KeVaughn is happy that we won. Devin would be the same way if KeVaughn was sitting here right now."
Guard Canyon Barry, coming off the bench, has led UF in scoring a team-high 10 times this season, but he played only 16 minutes Thursday, scoring seven points.
"Our mind-set has been whoever's got the hot hand, try to work through them,'' Barry said. "We have great guard play and a solid interior, so hopefully if we're all clicking together, we can beat anyone in the country. I hope that's the case Saturday."
The Gators also will have a size advantage against a Virginia team that used four and even five guards in Thursday's win against UNC-Wilmington.
But beating the Cavaliers likely starts with having patience against a defense designed to force teams into halfcourt play — not a Florida strength — and controlling the tempo to grind out a low-scoring win.
"It's a mind-set that we're going to try to outlast and impose our will on the offense," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. "Our defense wasn't great (Thursday), and there are times when it hasn't been good. When our defense is right, we can play with a lot of people and be successful. When it's not, it's hard."