News Column

Gators Gone, Miss Out on Final 4 Again

April 1, 2013

Hays Carlyon

Florida didn't have to worry about blowing another big lead in the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight for the third consecutive season.

Michigan stomped the Gators from the opening tip.

Guard Nik Stauskas scored 19 of his career-high 22 points in the first half to lead fourth-seeded Michigan to a 79-59 win over No. 3 seed Florida in the South Region final Sunday at Cowboys Stadium in front of 36,585 fans. UF (29-8) never cut Michigan's lead below 11 in the second half and trailed by as many as 25.

"They played a really terrific game," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "They shot the ball very well from behind the 3-point line. They capitalized on our turnovers. We dug ourselves a hole very early in the game."

The Gators led the nation in scoring margin entering the contest at 18.1 points per contest but suffered their worst NCAA tourney loss since a 68-46 defeat to Michigan State in 2003. UF's most lopsided defeat this season prior to Sunday was an 11-point setback at Arkansas on Feb. 5.

"We didn't fight hard enough," said Florida junior center Patric Young, a Jacksonville native. "We didn't play well enough on both ends. We didn't play smart. We weren't locked in on defense. They went on a good run and then didn't look back from there."

The Wolverines (30-7) advanced to their first Final Four since 1993 and will play East Region champ Syracuse (30-9) on Saturday in Atlanta.

"We felt today the key was to come out and throw the first punch," said Michigan guard Trey Burke, who earned South Region most outstanding player honors after scoring 15 points with eight rebounds and seven assists Sunday. "Nik played one of his best games all season. We noticed he was hot early on, and we tried to continue to find ways to find him when he was open."

The Gators were eliminated in the Elite Eight for the third consecutive season, but by far different means than the previous two years.

UF failed to hold 11-point leads with less than 10 minutes to play against Butler in 2011 and Louisville in 2012.

On Sunday, Michigan delivered an early knockout. The Wolverines scored the game's first 13 points and opened up a 41-17 lead with four minutes to play until halftime.

"This is a totally different feel than the last two," Donovan said. "The last two, we gave ourselves every opportunity to win. This one, we didn't play well enough or deserve to win the game. The other two games, I was heartbroken for our team, because we were really close. We weren't that close here today."

Stauskas, a freshman, made all six of his shots in the first half, including a dazzling 5 of 5 from the 3-point area, to led Michigan. He had 17 points in the game's first 16 minutes, the same point total as Florida. Stauskas had not made more than two 3-pointers in Michigan's last 13 games but finished with a career-high six without missing.

"It's been a while since I had a game like this," Stauskas said. "My teammates did a real good job finding me. My shot felt good, so I was just letting them fly."

UF ranked third in the nation in scoring defense entering the game at 53.7 points. Michigan hit that total with 15 minutes to go in the game.

The Gators were ineffective offensively for the second consecutive game. During Friday's 62-50 win over Florida Gulf Coast, UF made 4 of its first 20 shots. Florida opened the game 4 of 18 on Sunday.

"I think in the first half, we missed 11 shots within three feet from the basket," Donovan said.

Florida's starters were dominated. The team's leading scorer, forward Erik Murphy, missed all 11 shots and had three turnovers in his final game for UF. Murphy, the most emotional player in the locker room after the game, didn't score in a game for the first time this season.

"I feel terrible for him," Young said.

Florida guard Kenny Boynton scored 13 to wrap up a career in which he became the school's second all-time leading scorer with 2,033 points and its most prolific 3-point shooter (333 makes).

"There are players in college basketball that never make it to the NCAA Tournament," Boynton said. "I'm honored to make it to three straight Elite Eights. I'm proud of my team to come this far."

Florida's other senior, guard Mike Rosario, scored nine points but missed all four of his 3-pointers.

UF shot 41.1 percent for the game and was 2 of 10 from the 3-point area.

Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin fouled out after scoring four points.

Forwards Will Yeguete and Casey Prather gave the Gators a lift off the bench. Yeguete scored 13 points, while Prather had seven.

Florida's starting five combined for a 13-of-42 shooting effort (31 percent).

UF trailed 47-30 at halftime. Young picked up two fouls in the first two minutes of the game.

The Gators were trying to advance to their fourth Final Four under Donovan, who dropped to 31-11 in the NCAA Tournament in his 17 years at UF.

"I feel more upset for Boynton, Rosario and Murphy," Donovan said. "They didn't get a chance and have come so close. I've experienced the Final Four enough. I want our program to continue to experience it and our players."



Source: (c)2013 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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