Florida, Michigan square-off for Final Four bid
Published: Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 10:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 10:20 p.m.
ARLINGTON, Texas — A few days after Florida lost to Louisville in the Elite Eight last season, senior guard Kenny Boynton gathered the team for a meeting.
Who: No. 3 seed Florida Gators (29-7) vs. No. 4 seed Michigan Wolverines (29-7)
When: 2:20 p.m.
Where: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Gainesville-area TV: CBS
Gainesville-area radio: 103.7 FM
Around the room, everyone was asked what they would do to get that moment back.
“Basically, I said anything to get back to a position like this,” Florida junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said. “It's a great position. It's a huge opportunity to have a chance to go to a Final Four.”
Florida is back in the Elite Eight for the third straight season after losing the previous two to Butler and Louisville, respectively, by a combined seven points.
The experienced Gators are hoping they've learned from their mistakes, while not dwelling too much on the recent past. Of the 12 players on UF's roster, six have been through both heartbreaking losses. The Gators failed to hold 11-point second-half leads in both games.
“I'm not sure what we take from those situations that could really help us get prepared for Michigan,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “I think this game stands on itself. It's got its own separate identity. It's in the moment. It's now. It's here. It's present.”
But the ability to close out games that doomed Florida in those two Elite Eight games has carried over to this season. Third-seeded Florida (29-7) has won all of its games by double digits, while going 0-6 in games decided by six points or less. Florida has blown second-half leads in four of those six losses (Arizona, Missouri, Kentucky and Mississippi).
Expect Florida to get another late-game test against a Michigan (29-7) team that's already proven its resilience. The fourth-seeded Wolverines rallied from down 10 points with under three minutes left in regulation to beat top-seeded Kansas, 87-85, in overtime Friday night.
“What we learned is we need to play a full 40 minutes,” Boynton said. “Michigan, I think, is a team that plays a full game as they did (Friday), having a comeback against Kansas.”
Florida has shown signs of progress in March, closing out games against Alabama, Minnesota and Florida Gulf Coast University. In all three games, the Gators led by single digits with under 10 minutes left and pulled away late.
“I think we've done a better job of not going off into our little world as far as staying together mentally, locked in, which is a key when going through adversity,” Florida junior center Patric Young said. “Great teams embrace those times together and push through those things together.”
Young said during preseason media day that the Elite Eight loss to Louisville was in his mind “every night” during the offseason.
“The goal was to get to this point, not only get here, but get an opportunity to win, to get to play in a Final Four,” Young said. “Not only is it motivated by the past, but it's motivated by the opportunity to be here right now.”
Florida comes into the matchup as the more experienced team, with three senior starters, two junior starters and two juniors (Will Yeguete and Casey Prather) coming off the bench.
Michigan, meanwhile, starts three freshmen. But the Wolverines also boast sophomore national player of the year candidate Trey Burke. The 6-foot point guard scored all of his 23 points in the second half and overtime, including a 30-foot 3-pointer with four seconds remaining against Kansas that sent the game to overtime.
The Wolverines rank first in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.52-1), second in fewest turnovers (9.3) and sixth in field goal percentage (48.5 percent).
“From an offensive efficiency standpoint, they may be the best in the country,” Donovan said.
But the Gators have prepared themselves for that kind of test in becoming the only team in the nation to reach the Elite Eight for three straight seasons. Florida has transformed from an explosive offensive team that had more perimeter punch with Bradley Beal and Erving Walker to a defense-first team led by Wilbekin, Boynton, Yeguete and Young. Florida ranks third in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 53.7 points per game.
“We've prepared the right ways for games consistently,” Boynton said. “Not saying the previous teams haven't, but I think everyone on the team contributes. Even the freshmen, they don't get in much, but they do a great job at preparing us, giving us a great look from the other team in practice.”
Senior forward Erik Murphy said everyone from the top to the bottom of the roster is committed to doing their job. The 6-foot-10 forward is hoping that bond will help the Gators stick together through the rocky moments they expect to encounter on Easter Sunday.
“This group is just really close,” Murphy said. “And obviously it's a different team than the past, we have different guys. But I think we've really come together this year and have a good bond and our chemistry is great. We just all want to do it for each other.”
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or email@example.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.
Record 29-7 29-7
Avg. Pts. 71.8 75.4
Opp. Avg. Pts. 53.7 63.1
Margin 18.1 12.3
FG Pct. .480 .486
Opp. FG Pct. .379 .423
3-Pt. FG Pct. .380 .381
Opp. 3-Pt. FG Pct. .303 .325
3-Pt. FG-Game 8.3 7.5
Opp. 3-Pt. FG-Game 5.1 6.4
FT Pct. .678 .705
Rebound Margin 5.0 3.3
TO Diff. 3.1 2.8
Avg Steals 7.2 6.1
Avg Blocks 3.3 2.7
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Sr. 12.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg
G Mike Rosario 6-3 Sr. 12.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Jr. 9.3 ppg, 4.9 apg
F Erik Murphy 6-10 Sr. 12.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Jr. 10.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg
MICHIGAN PROBABLE STARTERS
G Trey Burke 6-0 So. 18.9 ppg, 6.8 apg
G Nick Stauskas 6-6 Fr. 11.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg
G Tim Hardaway Jr. 6-6 Jr. 14.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg
F Glenn Robinson III 6-6 Fr. 11.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg
C Mitch McGary 6-10 Fr. 7.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg
Notes: Florida is playing in the Elite Eight for the seventh time in school history and sixth time under Billy Donovan. The 17-year UF coach is 3-2 in Elite Eight games and 31-10 (.781) in NCAA Tournament games. … Florida is 25-0 when it holds opponents under 60 points and 4-7 when teams score 60 or more. … Florida senior guard Mike Rosario is averaging 16 points per game in three NCAA Tournament games. … Florida senior Kenny Boynton is at 2,020 points, 70 points shy of Ronnie Williams' school record (2,090 points). … The Wolverines are averaging 82 points per game in three NCAA Tournament games. … Florida is 1-1 all-time against Michigan. The last meeting between the schools was a 79-63 win by the Gators on Dec. 27, 1998. … Florida is 17-1 in its last 18 NCAA Tournament games against lower seeds. In the lone loss, ninth-seeded Butler knocked off second-seed Florida 74-71 in overtime in the 2011 Elite Eight in New Orleans. … Michigan coach John Beilein is 11-7 in the NCAA Tournament. Beilein is making his second Elite Eight coaching appearance. In 2005, as coach of West Virginia, Beilein's team fell 93-85 in overtime to Louisville.
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