Overcoming adversity is never an easy feat. Florida Basketball point guard Scottie Wilbekin certainly makes it seem that way, however. In his first three seasons with the Gators, he earned himself three separate suspensions for violation of team rules, with two of them coming in a seven-month span during his junior year. Heading into the 2014 season, he had lost the trust of his coaches, teammates and fans.
Something needed to change, and fast. Wilbekin decided to clean up his act and completely dedicate himself to what brought him this far in life: basketball. With his troubled past behind him, Gator fans everywhere have seen a whole new Scottie this season. Florida head coach Billy Donovan has marveled at his leadership both on and off the court.
It would take a lot more than leadership, however, to beat a Pittsburgh team who was coming off a 29-point opening round victory over Colorado. Wilbekin and top seeded Florida came in knowing the Panthers were far more talented than their ninth seed would show.
In the first half Saturday, it was defense that played large for the Gators. Their tormenting ability to switch between zone and man had Pittsburgh’s offense in disarray. They looked extremely out of sync, and spent the majority of their possessions trying to reset because of this. Panthers head coach Jamie Dixon was often seen with his hands on his head, looking baffled and frustrated. His starting back court shot a combined 0/7 in the first half.
Even with their subpar play, he found his team down just two points with five seconds left in the first half. That was until Scottie Wilbekin nailed a three-point buzzer beater giving the Gators just the boost they needed heading into the locker room. Florida would go on to ride this momentum the entire second half.
In the second half, Wilbekin showed that on-court leadership he has been praised for this year by taking the game into his own hands. He created two quick turnovers early, both leading to baskets. And once Florida gained a comfortable lead, Wilbekin played the role of stabilizer. He single handedly put the game on ice, shredding Pittsburgh’s defense and scoring nine of the Gators final 15 points.
Florida would go on to win the game with relative ease, by a score of 61-45. Scottie Wilbekin finished with a game high 21 points, including 9-15 shooting and 3-7 from beyond the arc. He was taken out with under a minute remaining and received a firm handshake from his head coach, along with a rousing ovation from the Gator faithful.
Even when the buzzer sounded and the game was over, Wilbekin still had the same crazed, driven look on his face we have seen from him all season long. Now more than ever, it is clear he has become the unquestioned leader of his team — a team he was almost kicked off of less than a year ago. He now leads them into the sweet 16, where the road will only grow harder. But if history repeats itself, Scottie Wilbekin and the Gators will have no problem dealing with it.