MEMPHIS — Scottie Wilbekin zipped down the court with both arms raised above his head, spread out like an airplane.
Florida's senior point guard had just drained a three-pointer with two seconds left to give the Gators a 14-point halftime lead Saturday in their NCAA South Region final showdown with Dayton.
FedEx Forum was filled with oohs and ahhs. Oxygen was in shorter supply for the upstart No. 11 Flyers.
Top-seeded Florida's fourth-year players — led by Wilbekin and Patric Young — continued to provide the knockout punches, delivering the Gators to a 62-52 victory and a berth in the Final Four next weekend in Arlington, Texas.
Wilbekin struck for a game-high 23 points, knocked down clutch free throws and managed the clock to close out the victory. He was named the region's most outstanding player. Young scored 12 points, pulled down six rebounds and blocked four shots to frustrate Dayton.
"We just focused on playing good team ball, utilizing each other," Young said. "Whatever advantage we saw we had, we just kept sticking to that. Early, that was me inside. Later it was Scottie."
The Gators, 36-2 and winners of 30 consecutive games, meet Michigan State or Connecticut in the national semifinals next Saturday. They are in that position after falling in three consecutive Elite Eight games the past three seasons. Wilbekin, Young, Will Yeguete (four points, seven rebounds) and Casey Prather (six points, seven rebounds) stuck around in Gainesville, overcame issues and were rewarded.
Young, sporting a freshly minted South Region champions hat backwards with a net clipping hanging from the side, hauled the title trophy with him to the postgame news conference. Wilbekin, similarly attired, beamed from the dais.
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It was long road to redemption for Florida after a frustrating summer. Wilbekin was suspended for a violation of team rules. Young pondered NBA possibilities. Yeguete was trying to come back from knee surgery.
The sense of joy mixed with relief was tangible.
"The struggles that we went through this year have just made it that much more fun and brought us that much closer together," Wilbekin said. "Throughout the season, each game has just gotten more and more fun. I'm having the most fun I've ever had in my life right now. "
Dayton (26-11) got as close as eight points with 3:55 remaining but couldn't solve Florida's pressure defense and got clobbered 12-5 on the offensive glass.
It was a disappointing end to a sensational season for the Atlantic 10 tournament champs, who had eliminated Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford to get here. Sophomore forward Dyshawn Pierre led the Flyers with 18 points. Senior forward Devin Oliver added 12 points.
"This team and these seniors re-created a vision," coach Archie Miller said. "They re-created a brand of basketball that that the University of Dayton hasn't had in 30 years. That's a statement among statements.
"They're going to go down as one of the best teams in the history of Dayton basketball. I think the blueprint is now set that we know how to do it now, and we can do it."
Unfinished business remains for the Gators, trying to earn the third national championship in school history, all under coach Billy Donovan.
"When you get to the Final Four there's a public perception that this is some culmination of mountaintop that you've gotten to," Donovan said. "I've always looked at it as a six-game tournament.
"We have nice names, Elite Eight and Sweet 16 and Final Four. But at the end of the day you want to keep playing."
And to keep winning.