Sunk City: Florida survives Cinderella-story FGCU
Florida advances to third-straight Elite Eight
Published: Friday, March 29, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 3:37 a.m.
ARLINGTON, Texas — The smiles were wide in the locker room shortly after Florida's 62-50 win in the Sweet 16 over Florida Gulf Coast University at Cowboys Stadium.
At Cowboys Stadium
South Regional Championship
Michigan (29-7) vs. Florida (29-7), 2:20 p.m.
RADIO: 103.7 FM
Even junior forward Will Yeguete, sporting a fat lip from a slap from FGCU guard Sherwood Brown, could chuckle a bit about the flagrant foul against him.
“That was a dog game and it wasn't pretty,” Yeguete said. “We just found a way to get it done. That's all it was about.”
Florida is moving on to the Elite Eight for the third straight season, overcoming a 38.6 percent shooting night from the floor with a lunchpail mentality on defense. It was about Yeguete and Patric Young taking charges, and Florida holding FGCU's high-powered offense to just 50 points and 44 shot attempts. The Gators forced 20 turnovers, including nine by wunderkind FGCU sophomore point guard Brett Comer.
Next up for the Gators (29-7), fourth-seeded Michigan, which rallied from down 11 points late to stun top-seeded Kansas 87-85 in overtime. By sending FGCU back to “Dunk City,” the Gators improved to 17-1 in their last 18 NCAA Tournament games against lower seeds.
Florida will need a more complete performance on both ends of the floor to get over the Elite Eight hump. The Gators have lost the last two seasons in the Elite Eight by a combined seven points. The start time of the Florida-Michigan game is 2:20 p.m. on Easter Sunday on CBS.
“It's a good feeling to still be advancing in this tournament,” Florida senior guard Kenny Boynton said. “There were some good teams here. To be in the final eight says a lot, but we don't want to settle here.”
The crowd, which included former Gator center Joakim Noah and UF football alums Emmitt Smith and David Nelson, watched Florida hold an opponent under 60 points for the 25th time this season. Noah, in town because the Chicago Bulls are playing the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday, was in the locker room postgame and traded some phrases in French with Yeguete before giving him a warm embrace.
Yeguete finished with two points, four rebounds and four steals and was all over the place defensively in the second half. Senior Mike Rosario led three Florida scorers in double figures with 15 points. Scottie Wilbekin added 13 points and three assists, and junior Casey Prather had 11 big points off the bench.
Up 30-26 at halftime, Florida started the second half on a 7-0 run, going ahead 37-26 on a drive in the lane from Rosario. From there, Florida maintained its lead. The Gators also did an excellent job on the boards, outrebounding Florida Gulf Coast 35-28 and scoring 16 second-chance points.
“We found and manufactured different ways to score,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “And we were terrific defensively.”
Wilbekin also came up big at the free-throw line in the clutch, making four straight to help Florida maintain a nine-point lead with less than three minutes remaining.
“I just know it's big for our team to get those buckets,” Wilbekin said. “It's free baskets and for those to go down and keep our lead, it's huge.”
But knocking out the Cinderella-story Eagles wasn't easy. With a torrid start from the floor, FGCU built an early 15-4 lead. The Eagles hit 5 of their first 6 shot attempts, including back-to-back 3-pointers from Bernard Thompson and Chase Fieler.
“Coach D always tells us teams are going to make runs,” Yeguete said. “They made a run early in the game. We just stayed in the game and focused on what we had to do.”
The Gators struggled early from the field early, making just 2 of their first 8 attempts and 4 of their first 20. Two of Florida's first three baskets came on putbacks. The Gators tried to pound the ball inside to Young and Erik Murphy, but failed to convert around the basket.
“I thought we had some good looks early,” Donovan said. “The ball just kind of rattled out on us.”
Prather provided a lift for the Gators with a dunk in transition, and a Rosario 3-pointer cut FGCU's lead to 21-14. Murphy then decked FGCU guard Christophe Varidel behind the 3-point line, picking up his second foul.
But after Varidel made all three free throws to put FGCU up 24-14, the Gators answered with a 16-0 run. Freshman guard Michael Frazier II started the run with back-to-back 3-pointers, then Prather followed with a putback to cut FGCU's lead to 24-22. Wilbekin followed with a jumper in the lane to tie the score at 24, and Florida took its first lead of the half, 27-24, on a Rosario 3-pointer.
Boynton's three-point play off a loose ball scramble put Florida up 30-24 with 56.8 seconds left in the first half. But a putback from FGCU's Brown cut Florida's lead to 30-26 at halftime.
“We made our run and we finished the second half strong,” Yeguete said.
Florida shot 34.4 percent from the field in the first half, but was strong on the offensive boards. The Gators scored 11 second-chance points in the first half and outrebounded FGCU 16-14. Florida also outscored FGCU 11-8 off turnovers.
FREE THROW: Murphy, who was sick earlier in the week, said he was 100 percent and refused to use it as an excuse for his performance. The 6-foot-10 senior forward went just 2 of 7 from the floor for the game with four points, four rebounds and two turnovers.
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or email@example.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.