March 19, 2011
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Erving Walker backpedaled toward midcourt, jumped as high as he could and pulled the inbound pass away from Malcolm Lee's outstretched hands.
Walker dribbled a few times, peaked over his shoulder to see how close Lee was and then launched a 3-pointer.
It felt as good as it looked.
Walker scored 21 points and made several clutch shots down the stretch, none bigger than that 3 with 1:14 remaining, as Florida beat UCLA 73-65 in the NCAA tournament Saturday.
"He came through for us tonight like no other," teammate Vernon Macklin said.
That might be an understatement.
Walker scored 10 of Florida's final 12 points. He made four free throws in the final 33 seconds, sinking both ends of 1-and-1s. He made a driving bank shot, a can't-believe-that-went-in prayer that came after the diminutive point guard - he's generously listed at 5-foot-8 - slammed into the belly of 6-foot-10, 325-pound center Josh Smith.
Walker showed courage, determination and the willingness to put everything on his shoulders after fellow guard Kenny Boynton went down with an ankle injury.
The second-seeded Gators (28-7) needed every bit of it to eliminate the No. 7 seed Bruins (23-11) from the NCAA tournament for the third time in the last six years.
"He's so quick. He's very fast. He's athletic, and he's very skilled," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "He can really shoot it. He shoots a very high percentage from 3 and he's a fearless little guy."
His biggest shot of the season gave Florida a 69-65 lead and forced the Bruins into desperation mode.
UCLA wasted several chances down the stretch, much like it did Thursday against Michigan State. The Bruins survived that one. They had no such luck against Florida, which advanced to the round of 16 in the Southeast region. The Gators will play either BYU or Gonzaga next Thursday in New Orleans.
"It definitely feels good," Chandler Parsons said. "You know, we've worked so hard all year long, and for us to accomplish what we've accomplished this year really feels good to get to this point. But like I've said before, we're not satisfied, we want to keep going."
Boynton finished with 12 points, five assists and ice on his left ankle. He landed awkwardly on Smith's foot with 4:24 remaining and had to be helped to the locker room. He returned a few minutes later, but was hobbling around the court, so Donovan pulled him.
Walker took over from there.
After his crazy bank shot and a free throw, Vernon Macklin followed with a reverse layup that came after he juked Smith in the lane. Walker saved his best for last, hitting his third shot from behind the arc and sealing the victory with four free throws.
"Erv is fearless," Parsons said. "Any time the guy shoots the ball, I think it's going in. He's got a knack for hitting big shots, like our game at Georgia was an unbelievable shot, and this one definitely ranks up there. ... He's been doing that for us all year long, so it really doesn't surprise me because he's a gutsy player that is willing and wants to take the last shot like that."
Walker had plenty of nicknames growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., but Boynton suggested that everyone simply call him "Big Shot Erv."
"We can go just with what Kenny said," Walker said. "I like that one."
Walker was one of seven Florida players with at least seven points Saturday, the kind of balance that makes the Gators dangerous in the tournament.
Macklin had 10 points. Alex Tyus chipped in eight points and a season-high 13 rebounds. Parsons showed his versatility again with seven points, five rebounds and five assists.
Smith and Reeves Nelson led UCLA with 16 points apiece. The Bruins kept it close throughout by pounding the boards and getting Florida in foul trouble.
But the Gators offset their problems inside with 50 percent shooting and six 3-pointers. Parsons got things going Florida's way late. The Southeastern Conference player of the year blocked Smith's dunk attempt with a little more than 6 minutes to play. Boynton hit a 3 on the other end. Parsons got the ball on the next possession and found Erik Murphy for a wide-open 3 that made it 61-55.
Tyler Honeycutt kept UCLA in it with a 3-pointer that made it 61-58 and another that trimmed the lead to 66-63. But Honeycutt missed two 3s in the final minute.
Walker, meanwhile, delivered on the other end.
Macklin joked that on most days Walker is just 5-6, but added that his performance against the Bruins earned him 5-8 - maybe even taller.
"How many players do you see who can do that? He's 5-8 and he plays like he's 6-7," Macklin said. "He's a great player and he's relentless. I think he has one of the biggest hearts on the team. ... I'm glad he did what he did."