Gators corral Gophers, get chance at another Sweet 16
Published: Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 8:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 25, 2013 at 8:30 a.m.
AUSTIN, Texas — As the 21-point halftime lead whittled down to seven, Florida could have reverted to that sinking feeling of second-half collapses past.
At Cowboys Stadium
Kansas (31-5) vs. Michigan (28-7), 7:37 on TBS
Florida Gulf Coast (26-10) vs. Florida (28-7), 9:57 p.m. on TBS
Not this time. Not on this big a stage.
Florida moved to its third straight NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 with a 78-64 win Sunday over Minnesota that proved, for a night at least, that the Gators could close out a game in the clutch.
“That's not going to be the last time we're going to be in that situation,” Florida senior guard Kenny Boynton said. “I think every game from here on out is going to be close or a team will go on a run. It's great that our team will have confidence going into the Sweet 16.”
The Gators (28-7) will next play Friday night at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, against Florida Gulf Coast, which became the first 15-seed in NCAA Tournament history to reach the Sweet 16. Florida Gulf Coast knocked off seven-seed San Diego State 81-71 on Sunday night to continue its Cinderella run.
“Right now, we don't know too much about those guys because we're so locked in on ourselves and what's going on with the Gators,” said Florida senior Mike Rosario, who led the Gators on Sunday night with a season-high 25 points. “But I'm sure that coach will break down the next opponent and make sure we're on edge.”
For the first time in school history, Florida has reached the Round of 16 for three straight years.
“I think this program is in a really good place right now,” Florida junior center Patric Young said. “We're hungry for more. We want championships. We don't just want Sweet 16s, Elite Eights. We want to get to that championship, hoisting up that trophy, cutting down nets.”
Florida coach Billy Donovan has led the Gators to seven Sweet 16s in 17 seasons.
“Our guys are great kids,” Donovan said. “They work hard, they're very, very pleasing and they understand what the program is trying to build, what we're trying to do and I think they take that very, very personally.”
The historic achievement deep in the heart of Texas didn't come as easy as it looked in the first half. Florida built a 48-27 halftime lead behind the hot hands of Rosario and senior Erik Murphy. Rosario scored 17 points and Murphy had 15 points, and both went a combined 10 of 14 from the floor in the first 20 minutes.
But Minnesota responded by outscoring the Gators 19-5 in the first eight-plus minutes of the second half, cutting Florida's lead to 53-46 on a putback by guard Austin Hollins.
But Rosario and Scottie Wilbekin responded with back-to-back 3-pointers, extending UF's lead back to 59-46 and getting the Gators out of an offensive funk. Florida started the second half 1 for 6 from the floor with four turnovers before the two made shots.
“We've been in situations like that before, having big leads and losing them,” Young said. “But the difference in this one is we stayed together and the recurrent theme was to fight through it, keep pushing.”
Florida also got a huge lift off the bench from Will Yeguete, who came in when Murphy picked up his fourth foul with 11:09 remaining. With Minnesota (21-13) overplaying the 3-point line, Florida pounded the ball inside to Yeguete and Young, who got to the foul line. Yeguete finished with seven points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals in 25 minutes.
Yeguete did the dirty work inside to counter Minnesota's physical frontline.
“That's just my job,” Yeguete said. “I think down the stretch, we all did a good job of taking care of the ball and rebounding.”
In a second half that featured 28 foul calls, Florida also cashed in at the free-throw line. The Gators finished the game 72.2 percent, making 26 of 36 from the line.
“Whenever they cut the lead to about eight or seven, knocking down those free throws let them know that we were still pouring the points on,” Young said.
Florida overwhelmed Minnesota early. After a 3-pointer from Minnesota guard Austin Hollins tied the score at 10 early, the Gators responded with a 27-5 run, going ahead 37-15 on a Rosario 3-pointer.
Andre Hollins cut UF's lead to 39-25 on a driving layup, but the Gators finished the half with a strong 9-2 run. Back-to-back steals by Yeguete and Wilbekin led to four straight points. Yeguete then found Murphy for a wide-open shot in the corner to put Florida ahead 46-25. Then, Wilbekin got another steal and found Casey Prather for an alley-oop dunk to put the Gators up 48-25.
Florida went into halftime ahead 48-27, shooting 65.2 percent from the field in the first half and 50 percent (7-14) from 3-point range.
The Gators also answered the physical challenge, outrebounding Minnesota 16-8 in the first half. Minnesota senior center Trevor Mbakwe, the Big Ten's leading rebounder at 8.8 per game, played just nine first-half minutes after picking up two fouls.
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