Gators advance to Elite 8 with win over Marquette

Florida Gators players Patric Young and Bradley Beal celebrate near the end of the game against the Marquette Golden Eagles at the US Airways Center in Phoenix, Ariz. on Thursday, March 22, 2012. Florida defeated Marquette 68-58 to advance to the Elite Eight.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 23, 2012 at 3:14 a.m.

PHOENIX — With a different cast, Florida is heading back to the Elite Eight.



Who: No. 7 seed Florida (26-10) vs. No. 4 seed Louisville (29-9)
When: Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
Where: US Airways Center, Phoenix

Freshman guard Bradley Beal scored 21 points, lifting Florida to a 68-58 win Thursday over Marquette in the West Regional semifinals.

The seventh-seed Gators (26-10) move on to face fourth-seeded Louisville (29-9) in the regional finals Saturday at 4:30 p.m. Louisville upset top-seeded Michigan State 57-44 earlier Thursday night. It will pit Florida coach Billy Donovan against his mentor, Louisville coach Rick Pitino.

Donovan is 0-6 against Pitino. His last meeting against his former coach at Providence was a 73-65 loss to Louisville on Dec. 13, 2004. Pitino gave Donovan his start in coaching when he hired him in 1989 as a graduate assistant at Kentucky

“Outside of my parents, he's the most influential person in my life,” Donovan said. “I'm very thankful for the opportunities he's given me as a player, as a coach.”

Florida made enough plays down the stretch to set up the storybook matchup. Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker each added 11 points for Florida. Patric Young had seven points and nine rebounds, and Erik Murphy had seven points and a season-high 10 rebounds.

Jae Crowder led Marquette (27-7) with 15 points. Darius Johnson-Odom scored 14 points for Marquette, and Todd Mayo added 11 points off the bench.

Young, Murphy and Beal are all first-year starters for a Florida team that had its share of ups and downs during the 2011-12 season. Walker and Boynton, meanwhile, are UF's two returning starters from a Florida team that reached the Elite Eight last season in New Orleans before falling to Butler in overtime.

“Hopefully this time, we can finish it off,” Walker said.

Getting back hasn't been easy. Florida endured a three-game losing streak to close the regular season and lost four of its last five heading into the NCAA Tournament. But Florida has won its three NCAA Tournament games with defense, holding teams to an average of 51 points per game in its three tournament wins.

“We're a lot younger and a lot different, and we play a lot different than a year ago,” Donovan said. “I think it's a great compliment to those guys and how hard they've worked, the schedule that we've played, them wanting to learn and grow and get better.”

Florida appeared to take Crowder's comments personally. Crowder said before the Florida-Marquette matchup that the Gators “lacked things defensively.” But Florida won the game with defense, holding Marquette to just 30.8 percent from the floor and 28.6 percent from 3-point range.

“They weren't recreating the wheel when it came to offense,” Young said. “We knew we could stop these guys, and it wasn't like they were a high-organized offense that can just run their stuff around us. We were really disciplined on defense today and did a really good job keeping their guys out of the paint and giving them only one-shot opportunities.”

The Gators had nine blocked shots and out-rebounded Marquette 42-41. That allowed Florida to overcome another off shooting night (7 of 27) from 3-point range.

“Our defense was the key because at times we struggled shooting the ball,” Walker said. “Brad made some great shots for us today, but defense is what won it for us.”

The Gators built a six-point halftime lead (36-30) and held it for the entire second half. Florida also handled Marquette's pressure, committing just 11 turnovers from a team that averaged 16.6 forced turnovers per game.

After a Johnson-Odom layup cut Florida's lead to 36-32, the Gators went on a 12-2 run. Murphy and Beal hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put Florida up 46-34, then Murphy followed with a driving layup to extend the UF lead to 48-34 with 13:25 left.

But Marquette pecked away. Florida went cold, scoring just two baskets in a six-plus-minute stretch. A fall-away jumper from Crowder cut Florida's lead to 52-44.

Mayo cut Florida's lead to 58-52 with a 3-pointer with 3:27 left, but Walker answered with a clutch 3-pointer to put Florida back ahead 61-52 with 2:05 left.

“I just saw the big man on me at first and they were able to switch out, so I was able to switch him,” Walker said. “I had a little crease and I just went for it and luckily it went in.”

The teams played a frenetic-paced first half. Marquette jumped to an early 9-4 lead before Florida got a lift from its bench. Junior guard Mike Rosario scored on a pair of driving layups, and after hitting a mid-range jumper, Casey Prather wowed the crowd with an alley-oop dunk from Boynton to put Florida up 21-20. Then, Scottie Wilbekin hit an open 3-pointer to extend UF's lead to 24-20.

Florida's bench scored 11 of its first 24 points.

The Gators forced Crowder's second foul of the first half with 9:31 left when he went over the back on Beal going for a defensive rebound. Florida tried to take advantage by going inside, but couldn't get much going in the post. Young and Murphy combined for just three first-half points.

Down 30-27, Florida closed the half with a 9-0 run. Beal hit a 3-pointer with 3:48 left to tie the score at 30. Young followed with a dunk and Boynton got a questionable goaltending call on a driving layup to put Florida ahead 34-30 with 2:03 left. A driving Beal bank shot with 41 seconds left put Florida up 36-30 at halftime.

The Gators shot 43.3 percent from the floor in the first half, but just 28.6 percent (4 of 14) from 3-point range. Florida missed several wide-open looks.

Murphy was 0 for 5 from the floor in the first half, and 0 for 3 from 3-point range. But Donovan insisted for his 6-foot-10 big man to keep shooting if he had open looks.

“I told him ‘I want you to shoot every time you are open',” Donovan said. “And if I see you not shooting the ball, I'm taking you out of the game. You've got a responsibility to every guy in this room when you shoot the ball, you have to expect it to go in.”

On defense, Murphy was on Crowder for most of the night, holding the Big East Player of the Year to 5-of-15 shooting from the floor.

“I just tried to do whatever I could to help because obviously shots weren't falling for me,” Murphy said.

FREE THROWS: Walker made his 283rd career 3-pointer and is now five shy of Lee Humphrey's school record (288). … Murphy's 10 rebounds were one shy of his career high (11 vs. Presbyterian in 2009). … Beal's 21 points were one point shy of his career-high (22 vs. Wright State and Stetson).


1. Can Florida carry over another strong shooting performance after making 10 3-pointers against Norfolk State?

Florida was just 7 of 27 (25.9 percent) from 3-point range. But fortunately for the Gators, Marquette shot the ball just as poorly from beyond the arc (6 of 21, 28.6 percent). The rims at US Airways Center in Phoenix were tight and many shots spun out.

2. Can Florida keep Marquette senior forward Jae Crowder off the boards and keep Marquette from scoring second-chance points?

Crowder was held to two offensive rebounds (7 total), but Marquette still outscored Florida 15-7 in second-chance points. Florida made up for it by scoring more points off turnovers (14-13) and playing sound perimeter defense.

3. Can another Florida player step up off the bench after Casey Prather (14 points against Virginia) and Mike Rosario (12 points against Norfolk State) had double-digit scoring games off the bench in UF's first two games?

Florida got 11 early points from its bench in a balanced effort. Mike Rosario scored four points, Casey Prather scored four points and Scottie Wilbekin made his only 3-point attempt for 3 points. The bench scored 11 of UF's first 24 points and allowed Florida to overcome its cold-shooting start from 3-point range.

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