Florida and Gonzaga had played two classic games in three tries prior to Friday night.
Make it three — and mark this one as the Gators’ first win in such a classic.
The Gators got 35 points from Jalen Hudson, a 26-point, 10-assist, eight-rebound night from Chris Chiozza, and an endless series of answers to Gonzaga’s own brilliant play in a 111-105 double overtime win that is unequivocally the best of the young college basketball season.
Florida never really found an answer for Gonzaga forward Johnathan Williams, who has tormented Florida since his time at Missouri: Williams scored 39 points on 22 shots and pulled down 12 rebounds to lead all players. Fellow big Killian Tillie was a menace unto himself, with 17 points on just eight shots before fouling out in overtime. And Josh Perkins, despite needing 16 shots to score his 17 points, made most of his six makes feel seismic.
Yet the way the Gators rose as if indomitable from the mat and the ropes and competed with the bigger, full-strength Bulldogs — and a full-throated partisan crowd packed with Gonzaga fans — was a convincing argument that they are the only answer they will need this season.
Florida coughed up leads in the final minute of play and the first overtime, after all — and still began the second overtime with the composure and ferocity it brings to bear at its best, getting back-to-back-to-back threes from Hudson, Chiozza, and Hudson again to take its biggest lead of the night minutes after 2 a.m. Eastern time.
Florida’s prize for winning this game is a chance to play celestially talented Duke on Sunday — in another game that could very well end after midnight, and against another storied program stocked with big men who will give the undersized Gators fits, most notably freshman Marvin Bagley III.
And Florida may well lose that game.
But the way Florida won this one will be all anyone who watched this game needs to believe — with powerful evidence — that these Gators can win a national title.
And we’ll remember this game not just all season, but for years to come.