The third time was certainly not a charm for the three-seed Florida Gators, which trailed from wire-to-wire and watched the more athletic and determined four-seed Michigan Wolverines dominate their Elite Eight showdown on Sunday afternoon at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX.
Florida (29-8), which became the first team in NCAA Tournament history to lose in the Elite Eight in three-straight seasons since the field expanded to 64 teams, was taken down 79-59 by Michigan (30-7), which moved on to its first Final Four since 1994.
The Gators put together one of their worst offensive performances of the season, entering Sunday’s game with a game plan that simply did not work against a longer and stronger Wolverines team. UF also played lackluster defense most of the contest, allowing its opponent to do basically whatever it wanted in both halves.
In fact, two of Florida’s starters – senior forward Erik Murphy and junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin – combined to go 1-for-17 from the field and 0-for-2 from downtown with seven combined turnovers. The Gators simply never had a chance to blow its third-straight second-half lead in the round because they never had a lead to begin with.
Just like its last game against FGCU, Florida could not buy a shot in the early going while Michigan was red hot from both inside the paint and out on the perimeter. The Wolverines scored the first 13 points of the game as the Gators missed their first six shots and waited nearly four minutes just to get on the board.
UF junior center Patric Young picked up two early fouls and went to the bench less than three minutes into the game, so UM responded by attacking the interior and opening up the contest with a 23-5 lead and 16-6 advantage on the boards.
Florida’s defense improved shortly thereafter but did not take long to falter once again as Michigan took off on a 11-2 run – including the fourth and fifth threes of the first half for Nick Stauskas – to jump ahead 41-17 with 4:08 remaining until half. UF started just 7-for-21 from the field and 0-for-3 from beyond the arc.
The Gators finally responded with an 11-2 run of their own, capped by a big three-pointer from senior guard Kenny Boynton, to cut their deficit to 15 points. However, freshman guard Michael Frazier II committed an untimely foul on a half-ending triple by Stauskas, sending him to the line and putting UF in a 17-point halftime deficit.
Florida did its best to make a dent in its hole by scoring the first six points of the second half and cutting Michigan’s lead to 11, the lowest it had been since UM opened up 13-0 to start the game.
Unfortunately for the Gators, they were unable to keep it up. Florida began committing costly turnovers in bunches once again and allowed the Wolverines to take back their huge advantage. Michigan eventually cleared its bench and held on for the huge win.
Stauskas led the Wolverines with a game-high 22 points while hitting all six of his attempts from beyond the arc. G Trey Burke added 15 points with eight boards and seven assists, and F Mitch McGary had 11 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
Boynton and junior F Will Yeguete posted 13 points each for the Gators. Murphy had a team-high eight boards and Wilbekin finished with a team-high seven dimes.
Redshirt senior G Mike Rosario, in his last game at Florida, finished with nine points, two rebounds and three turnovers.
Though Michigan had the upper hand all game, it only barely outshot Florida (.462-.411) and actually lost the rebounding battle 35-36. The Wolverines, however, hit 10-of-19 attempts from beyond the arc while the Gators barely shot any triples and made just 2-of-10. UM outscored UF in the paint (38-36), on second chances (11-10) and off turnovers (16-7) with Florida scoring 25 of its 59 points off the bench.
The Gators’ season ends with the team failing to achieve its third 30-win campaign in school history. Florida simply could not hang with a better Michigan team, which handed UF its largest loss since 2004.
Photo Credit: David J. Phillip/Associated Press