Originally published March 17, 2011 at 08:59p.m., updated March 17, 2011 at 11:33p.m.
Tampa, Fla. Chandler Parsons trudged through the back hallways of the arena, headphones on and eyes fixated on his phone.
He was doing just fine until someone stopped him.
"I'm going the wrong way?" Parsons asked.
Not as far as the Gators are concerned.
Parsons flirted with his first triple-double, finishing with 10 points, seven rebounds and a career-high 10 assists, and Florida coasted to a 79-51 victory over 15th-seeded UC Santa Barbara in the Southeast region Thursday night.
Parsons and the Gators made their opening game in the NCAA tournament seem like one of those preseason exhibitions. And they looked every bit deserving of a No. 2 seed. Next up, seventh-seeded UCLA on Saturday.
"They're awful good," UCSB coach Bob Williams said. "They have accumulated a great nucleus of talent that should have an opportunity to take them a long way. I mean, anybody that thinks they're, in my opinion, overrated as a 2 seed, I think you're wrong."
The Gauchos put up more of a fight in the opening round last year against Ohio State, which won 68-51. Williams said Florida was more dominant and versatile than that Buckeyes team.
"Ohio State was extremely perimeter-oriented last year," he said, "and this group has a great inside-out combination."
The Gators (27-7) made 11 of their first 15 shots, opened up a double-digit lead early and kept piling on the rest of the way. They were just as good on defense as UCSB missed 12 of its first 17 shots and had 10 first-half turnovers.
Florida was bigger, faster, more skilled and more athletic at nearly every position — and it showed in what was the most lopsided game so far on the first day of the tournament.
"We wanted to block out what everybody was saying," guard Kenny Boynton said. "We heard people saying we were going to get upset. We heard people saying we were going to win. We just wanted to come out and play our best game on the offensive end and the defensive end."
Erving Walker had 18 points and six assists, and Boynton added 13 points as Florida got contributions from just about everyone.
Orlando Johnson led the Gauchos (18-14) with 21 points. Teammate Jaime Serna broke a bone in his wrist early and played just 11 minutes.
"You just get to these points in the tournament, we talk about giving ourselves a chance, but we didn't give ourselves a chance from the get go," Johnson said. "They just jumped out. We never even saw a chance at the lead. We had it 1-0 and that was about it.
"It just (stinks) because you want to put on your best foot forward in these type of games and show you can compete at this level with these teams, and it just hurts when you just can't get it done."
Prognosticators across the country questioned Florida's selection as a No. 2 seed, wondering how a team that lost to Jacksonville and Central Florida during the regular season and got drilled by Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference tournament final garnered such a lofty spot.
Even the Gators figured they would be seeded third.
But they looked like a polished team ready for the big stage against UCSB, the Big West tournament champions who seemed shellshocked from the opening tip.
The Gators faced little resistance after a stellar first 20 minutes in which they shot 58 percent from the field. Parsons got things going with two assists and then consecutive 3-pointers.
Boynton added a driving layup and a 3-pointer that pushed the lead to 23-11. Things really got out of hand when freshman Patric Young started dominating the boards. Young had a dunk, a putback and two free throws during a 13-3 run that turned the game into a laugher.
Parsons probably could have recorded the program's first triple-double in the NCAA tournament, but he sat out the closing minutes.
"Yeah, I saw it," Parsons said. "People were talking about it close to the end of the game, but I think it was more important for our guys to get rest than me to do something like that."
The victory was Florida's first in the NCAA tournament since winning the second of back-to-back national titles in 2007.
"It doesn't seem too long ago, it really doesn't to me," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I mean, four years ago is not that long. If it was 25, I'd say, 'Boy, it seems like forever.'"
"I knew after those national championship teams that we were starting over," he added. "It's been very difficult. It's been very challenging. It's also been very, very rewarding being part of a group of guys and trying to help them understand what it takes to win at this level and the strides that they've made from their freshman year until now."