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Florida 84, Wisconsin 83: Chris Chiozza works magic in madness

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The Gators had lost. Except they didn’t.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - East Regional - Wisconsin v Florida Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

It was the most painful loss in Florida Gators basketball history.

The Gators couldn't hold a 12-point lead in the second half. They couldn't hit a shot down the stretch. They didn't keep their unbelievably tough opponent from microwaving an offense that had gone from molten to frozen as Florida built its lead, nor did they manage to keep a legendary KeVaughn Allen performance going.

They didn't foul Zak Showalter up three with seconds remaining, and so he was able to hit an off-balance runner three destined to go down as one of the finest shots in Wisconsin Badgers basketball history to tie the game and send it to overtime.

They fell behind in overtime, too, with nothing working at first. Three open threes didn't fall. The lead grew to two possessions. Florida had to steal the game to win the game.

And then.

And then Canyon Barry drove to the hoop on a semi-transition possession, and got one of his few buckets in this NCAA Tournament to keep it close-ish. And then Barry rejected a shot at the rim to keep it close-ish. And then Florida tied the game, unbelievably, on a darting Chris Chiozza drive to the basket.

But.

But Florida fouled Nigel Hayes, and he hit two free throws to make it an 83-81 game. With four seconds on the clock. And no timeouts. And the Gators needing to go the length of the court to tie or win.

But. And then.

They did.

Chris Chiozza took his dribbles, and leaned into the shot. It looked like the one Showalter made to send the game to overtime, or the one that Allen made at Kentucky a season ago — a no-way-he-couldn’t-possibly-make-that effort, doomed to miss and consign Florida to failure.

But.

It didn’t.

It went in.

The worst loss in Florida Gators basketball history was not to be.

The most scintillating win in Florida Gators basketball history was.

Chiozza’s three gave him eight points on the night, and sent Florida to its seventh Elite Eight in the last 12 NCAA Tournaments. Barry’s block gave him 13 on the season. Allen had an absurd 35 points, the most ever by a Gator in an NCAA Tournament game, and 27 more than any other Florida player had on the night.

It took every ounce of what the Gators had to beat a team that beat the defending national champions last Sunday, and it will be fair to wonder whether the Gators expended every bit of that energy to end up going no further than this, especially with suddenly otherworldly South Carolina set to meet them on Sunday in the Elite Eight.

Tonight? Tonight is for reveling in the revelatory, exulting in the extraordinary.

Tonight, the Florida Gators made magic of madness.

May we never forget it.