Though there were a bunch of players in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament who led their team with great performances after day one, one stood out from the rest. Kevarrius Hayes led the Florida Gators on both ends of the floor to an upset win over the 7-seed Nevada Wolfpck.
After a season where Hayes averaged 8.1 points, leading the Gators with 16 points in the first round of the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament is a huge moment for the senior from Live Oak, Florida. Not only was he vital on the offensive end, but Hayes was the anchor on defense once again. One of the SEC’s best rim protectors blocked three shots and helped to hold off the Wolfpack’s late comeback.
Florida was able to build leads against Nevada by playing solid defense and forcing mistakes on the defensive end, but they seemed to fall apart when Hayes went to the bench. The Gators went on a 12-0 run early in the second half, but with Hayes on the bench, the Wolfpack worked their way back into the game, cutting the deficit to as little as two.
However, it was the 6-foot-9 senior who stopped the bleeding for Mike White’s Gators.
With 4:17 left in the game, Hayes went to the free throw line and knocked down both attempts. But he wasn’t done, hitting three out of four more from the charity stripe, finishing 6 of 8 in the game. That is pretty good for a player who made just 66 percent on the season and 59.8 percent throughout his career in Gainesville.
Hayes’ shooting at the free throw line was great, but he was even better from the field, hitting five of his six field goal attempts. In the first half, he paced the offense with all five of his makes coming before halftime. He made the first shot of the game for his team and two of the first three. Four of his field-goals came in the first 10 minutes, his fifth being a dunk with just 22 seconds remaining before halftime.
His defense also led to winning plays for the University of Florida with three blocks coming in the second half, two coming at the rim during the 12-point run. Even though he finished with just three rebounds, he made a huge difference on the glass, boxing out Nevada’s big men, and controlling the tempo as the 10-seed Florida basketball team heading into the second round.