Of course, twice is more often than once.
The Gators have come up on the short end of two of the three games in series history, falling in the Sweet Sixteen in 1999 to the original Cinderella Gonzaga outfit, and losing a 77-72 decision in last year’s AdvoCare Invitational to the first Bulldogs team to make the NCAA Tournament final, but both of those games were pitched battles, with Casey Calvary’s legendary tip-in deciding the 1999 battle and one great half of shooting by the Bulldogs doing Florida in a year ago in Orlando.
Florida’s lone win was the least close of the three, an 86-71 triumph in December 2000, but it was not a cheap one, coming over a Zags team that would eventually make the Sweet Sixteen.
And now the Gators and Bulldogs will meet again on this Friday night in Portland, in the semifinals of the Motion Bracket of the PK80 Invitational, as ranked and unbeaten teams that are coming off stellar opening-round performances.
It’s hard to argue that Florida’s wasn’t the best of the PK80 so far: The Gators rained 13 threes on Stanford in the first half, then led by as many as 36 points in the second stanza before backups and walk-ons allowed the Cardinal to claw back and create a 108-87 score that was deceivingly close. But Gonzaga dominated Ohio State on Thursday — Friday morning on the East Coast! — in the game played immediately after Florida-Stanford, shooting 68 percent on twos and making 12 threes of their own in an 86-59 trouncing.
And neither Florida nor Gonzaga has seen a team in each other’s league yet this year, with both programs kicking the aluminum out of two tomato cans and getting a closer game from a third lesser program before making the trip to Portland for the Nike-sponsored event.
Florida’s eclipsed 100 points three times this year, but Gonzaga did that once, and came three points shy in another game; the Zags, too, have played good defense, forging an identity as a newly stingy team inside the arc by pairing athletic forward Johnathan Williams — who has a 2-2 record against Florida, and will end the evening having somehow played against the Gators in each year of his collegiate career despite transferring from Missouri to Gonzaga in the middle of it — with the wonderfully-named French big Killian Tillie to create a frontcourt allowing opponents to make fewer than 38 percent of their twos.
The Gators have been exceptionally careful with the basketball, and are good at creating blocks and steals defensively, but their standout stat is clearly their shooting: Florida is fifth nationally in three-point percentage, and has made 11, 15, and 15 threes in its three 100-point explosions. When the Gators were off against New Hampshire, making just three of 18 threes, they played a much closer, tighter game.
If Florida gets it going against the Zags, they could come away with their best win yet.