PROVO — While the Sweet 16 is unfamiliar territory for this BYU team, its next opponent is a somewhat familiar one.
The No. 3 seeded Cougars (32-4), who dominated Gonzaga, 89-67, Saturday in Denver to earn their first trip to the Sweet 16 since 1981, meet No. 2 Florida (28-7) in the Southeast Region semifinals Thursday in New Orleans.
A year ago, the Cougars outlasted the Gators, 99-92, in a first-round, double-overtime thriller in Oklahoma City.
"I hope it doesn't go into double-overtime again," joked BYU forward Noah Hartsock, who went 5-for-5 from the floor and scored 13 points Saturday. "They're a great team. They returned everyone back. They've got some new players. It's going to be a great challenge."
Florida's 5-foot-8 junior guard, Erving Walker, scored 21 points, including a 3-pointer with 1:10 remaining, Saturday to guide Florida to a 73-65 win over No. 7 seeded UCLA, which defeated the Cougars in December.
"The little guy played great down the stretch," Bruin coach Ben Howland said of Walker. "He's a fearless little guy."
This marks the deepest that Florida has advanced in the NCAA Tournament since it claimed back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007. The following two seasons, the Gators were relegated to the NIT before they were eliminated by BYU in the NCAA Tournament last March.
Florida's Chandler Parsons said his team is "not satisfied" merely reaching the Sweet 16. "We want to keep going," he added.
Said UCLA's Reeves Nelson of the Gators: "I can definitely see them in the Elite Eight and possibly the Final Four. They can beat you a lot of different ways. They definitely earned our respect."
The winner of the Florida-BYU game will meet the winner of No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 8 Butler next Saturday with a berth in the Final Four in Houston on the line. Butler, which lost to Duke in the NCAA championship game last season, bounced No. 1 seed Pittsburgh from the tournament.
Gator guard Kenny Boynton, who scored 27 points against the Cougars last season, sustained a mild ankle sprain late in the win over UCLA. Florida coach Billy Donovan said he expects Boynton to play against BYU.
The Cougars knocked down 14 3-pointers in their impressive rout of Gonzaga. Guard Jimmer Fredette hit seven 3-pointers and finished with 34 points.
BYU is looking to go to the Elite Eight for the first time since Danny Ainge led the Cougars there in 1981.
Fredette has surpassed Ainge as BYU's all-time leading scorer and Jackson Emery has eclipsed Ainge as the Cougars' all-time leader in steals. Can they help carry BYU to the Elite Eight, like Ainge did 30 years ago when he dribbled the length of the court for a layup in the final seconds in a dramatic victory over Notre Dame?
"We're looking forward to being able to play. Hopefully we'll be able to do that," Fredette said. "(Ainge) led this team to the Elite Eight. We realize that. We've seen the coast-to-coast layup and everything. It's a great moment for this school. We haven't been here the last 30 years. This is an accomplishment in itself."
"It's exciting. I'm pretty sure Danny Ainge doesn't mind if we keep breaking his records if we keep winning," Emery said. "We're excited to continue and play hard, I know he's rooting us on. Hopefully we continue to play well and do those things that help us get more victories."
Cougars on the air
No. 3 BYU (32-4) vs. No. 2 Florida (28-7)
Thursday, 5:37 p.m. MDT
New Orleans Arena
Southeast Region semifinals
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company