Florida chokes away Final Four berth for second-straight year, falls to Louisville 72-68 in Elite Eight

Leading by 11 points with 8:14 left in the game, the No. 7-seed Florida Gators (26-11) collapsed and were outscored 18-3 down the stretch, falling 72-68 to the No. 4-seed Louisville Cardinals (30-9) in the Elite Eight round in the West Region of the 2012 NCAA Tournament at the US Airways Center in Phoenix, AZ.

It was the second-straight year that Florida choked away an opportunity to advance to the Final Four by blowing a double-digit lead they carried more than midway through the second half. The Gators scored just three points while hitting just 1-of-12 shots over the final 8:14. UF also went 1-for-4 down from the free throw line down the stretch and went 0-for-9 from three-point range over the final 20 minutes.

Florida opened up the contest on a quick 7-0 run but Louisville one-upped them, answering with a 10-0 run of their own by forcing three turnovers and hitting a pair of treys. However, a three from the corner by UF junior forward Erik Murphy evened the score at 10-10 with 13:35 remaining in the first half.

The Gators regained some momentum but were unable to pull away as the Cardinals forced a shot clock violation (UF’s fifth turnover in the first 12 minutes of the game) and tied it up at 19-19 on a jumper by guard Peyton Silva, Jr. Florida then erupted on a barrage of baskets and threes, outscoring Louisville 20-10 while making five triples to take a 39-29 lead with 1:58 left until the break.

UF held on to most of that advantage down the stretch, going into the locker rooms with an eight-point lead while shooting 66.7 percent from the field and 72.7 percent (8-of-11) from downtown. UL kept it close by not only forcing five turnovers but also attempting 11 more shots in the first 20 minutes.

The Cardinals took it to the Gators early in the second half, using a 7-0 run to cut their deficit to three. Florida and Louisville jockeyed for position until UF found themselves back ahead eight with 12:31 left after sophomore center Patric Young threw down a monstrous slam on an alley-oop from senior point guard Erving Walker.

The Gators continued scoring and went up a game-high 11 points on the Cardinals, 58-47 with 10:56 remaining, concluding an 8-2 run with four consecutive free throws by Walker which came following a foul by Siva and technical on Pitino.

Louisville refused to relent and got right back in the game moments later, exploding on a 12-1 run to tie it at 66 with 3:10 left. The Gators went ice cold, missing four baskets and three-of-four free throws to allow the Cardinals to wipe out their advantage.

Florida junior G Kenny Boynton knocked in a jumper to put the Gators back up two with 2:43 left, but UF missed their final seven shots (three treys) and gave UL multiple opportunities to gain and extend their lead. Down one with 25 seconds left, Beal intercepted a pass but immediately travelled, committing Florida’s 14th turnover of the game and allowing Louisville to take a three-point lead on two free throws.

Beal and Boynton each missed a three on the team’s second-to-last possession, and the Cardinals knocked in another free throw to ice the game and their ninth Final Four berth.

The Gators fell to 21-2 this season when leading at the half and failed to be the first No. 7-seed to reach the Final Four since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Florida head coach Billy Donovan also remained winless (0-7) in his career against Louisville head coach Rick Pitino with the loss.

Turnovers were the primary difference in the game. The Cardinals forced 14 and scored 15 points off those miscues while only committing six of their own (the Gators did not capitalize on any of them).

Florida outshot Louisville from the field (.500-.450) and downtown (.400-.375), but UL took 12 more attempts from the field and were more accurate from the charity stripe (.800-.667). The Gators also won the rebounding battle 32-27; however, the Cardinals got 22 points from their bench while UF’s only contributed five.

Florida dropped an Elite Eight contest to Butler in similar fashion one year ago, leading by 11 points with 9:26 remaining but allowing their opponent to tie the contest with less than four minutes remaining. Butler wound up winning 74-71 in overtime.

G Russ Smith led the way for Louisville with a game-high 19 points, and F Chane Behanan joined him at the top of the box score with 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting.

The Gators got 14 points each from Beal (6-of-12) and Murphy (4-of-5, 2-for-2 from three), who combined to grab 15 rebounds. All five Florida started scored in double figures with Boynton and Walker each posting 12 and Young contributing 11 (on 5-of-7 shooting) along with six boards.

UF now heads home earlier than they hoped for the second-straight season and awaits word from three of their players about their future. Beal, Young and Boyton will all consider turning pro and declaring for the 2012 NBA Draft though Young has already said he plans to return for his junior season and Boynton is not expected to depart.

Photo Credit: Chris Carlson/Associated Press

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NCAA Elite Eight: (7) Florida vs. (4) Louisville

Location: US Airways Center – Phoenix, AZ [Capacity: 18,422]
Time: 4:30 p.m. (ET)

TV: CBS/CBSHD
SiriusXM: 91
Online Video: CBS.com
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

(7) FLORIDA GATORS (4) LOUISVILLE CARDINALS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Rick Pitino
Record: 26-10 Record: 29-9
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Big East
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -1; O/U 132

KNOW THE OPPONENT

No. 4-seed Louisville, which has won seven-straight games including four in a row to win the 2012 Big East Tournament, edged out Davidson and New Mexico in the second and third rounds before registering a dominant 57-44 victory in the West Region’s other Sweet 16 game over No. 1-seed Michigan State. The Cardinals went 10-8 in their conference this season and split a pair of match-ups against SEC opponents, winning at home against Vanderbilt and losing on the road to Kentucky. Louisville is led in the frontcourt by Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan, who combine to average 18.5 points and 16.5 rebounds per game. The Cardinals only double-digit scorers are a pair of guards in Kyle Kuric (12.9 points per game) and Russ Smith (11.4 points per game), though the team has six players who average at least nine points.

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Florida is making its 15th NCAA Tournament appearance all-time and 12th under Donovan. The Gators are 32-12 all time in the event (28-9 under Donovan) with two national titles in three championship game appearances and four trips to the Final Four. Florida is making its sixth ever and second-straight Elite Eight appearance and is hoping to earn its fifth trip to the Final Four.
» Louisville is making its 38th NCAA Tournament appearance all-time and ninth under Pitino, who has led the program to the event six years in a row. The Cardinals are participating in their 12th Elite Eight and are hoping to advance to the Final Four for the ninth time in the program’s history.
» UL leads the all-time series against UF 7-1. Donovan is 0-2 against Louisville but 17-9 against the Big East since taking over the program.
» The Gators are 4-1 all-time in the Elite Eight and are in the event for the fourth time in the last seven years (2-1).
» The Cardinals are 8-3 all-time in the Elite Eight (1-2 under Pitino) and are in the event for the fourth time in the last eight years.
» Donovan is 0-6 all-time against Pitino.
» No. 7 seeds are 0-6 all-time in the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight since 1985.
» Florida is the first team in the history of the NCAA Tournament to score more than 70 points and allow 50 points or fewer in its first two games.
» No team that has allowed fewer than 155 points in their first three NCAA Tournament games in the shot clock era (1986-present) has lost in the Elite Eight (3-0). The Gators have allowed 153 points through three games.
» Florida has made a three in 687 consecutive games dating back to Jan. 1992.
» The Gators have registered a school record and nation-high in three-pointers this season with 349 over 36 games; the 9.8 treys per game is No. 1 in the country.
» All five of UF’s normal starters are averaging 10.2 points per game or more.
» Florida is 19-2 (two losses to Kentucky) this year when posting a positive assist-to-turnover ratio and are just 7-8 when the margin is even or negative.
» The Gators are 239-39 since 1998-99 when recording 15 or more assists in a game and 291-37 since 1988-89 when holding opponents under 70 points.
» UF is 6-6 against the NCAA Tournament field with four losses coming against No. 1 seeds (Kentucky, Syracuse) and one to a No. 2 seed (Ohio State). Conversely, UL is 13-8 against the same field with three losses to No. 1 seeds (Kentucky, Syracuse) and one to a No. 3 seed (Marquette).
» Florida and Louisville each have an ace up their sleeve heading into Saturday’s contest. The Gators and Cardinals traded staff members in the offseason with former UF assistant Richard Pitino going to UL as an assistant and Louisville team manager Billy O’Meara heading to Florida as assistant video coordinator.
» The Gators are shooting 77 percent from the free throw line in the postseason and have taken at least 15 attempts from the charity stripe in four of the last five games.
» Florida’s defense has improved immensely in the NCAA Tournament. UF’s three opponents are averaging just 51 points (with no team scoring more than 58) while shooting 31 percent from the field and 21 percent from beyond the arc.
» Louisville’s NCAA Tournament defense has also been impressive. UL has held their three opponents to an average of 54 points on 35 percent shooting from the floor and 22 percent from downtown.
» The Gators’ three-point shooting, however, has been less than impressive in the tourney. The Gators are averaging just seven treys per game (down from 10 during the regular season) and are shooting just 27 percent from beyond the arc.
» The Cardinals knocked off No. 1-seed Michigan State for the opportunity to play in the Elite Eight. Louisville is on a seven-game winning streak dating back to March 7 which includes victories over six NCAA Tournament teams including MSU, Notre Dame, Davidson, Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Marquette.

Read the rest of this preview: Florida back to Elite Eight / Donovan vs. Pitino
Continue Reading » NCAA Elite Eight: (7) Florida vs. (4) Louisville

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TWO BITS: Yeguete dressed, Tebow billboard

1 » Approximately 90 minutes before game time the Florida Gators announced that sophomore forward Will Yeguete, out since breaking his foot on Feb. 21, “will be in uniform and warm up” with the team prior to their Elite Eight contest. No. 7-seed Florida (26-10) will take on the No. 4-seed Louisville Cardinals (29-9) in the West Region finals for an opportunity to head to New Orleans, LA and participate in the Final Four portion of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. The Gators also noted that, should the team advance and play next weekend, Yeguete will be available to play on a limited basis. He started participating in drills with the team on Friday.

2 » Now officially a member of the New York Jets, quarterback Tim Tebow’s presence is already being felt in the Big Apple. On Saturday at noon, Jockey (a brand for which Tebow is a paid endorser) put a billboard up outside Lincoln Tunnel in New York City. The brand has previously posted billboards of Tebow in Denver, CO. The Jets will hold a press conference on Monday at noon to announce Tebow, but fans apparently already have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of him in the city.

Photo above courtesy of Clear Channel Outdoor.

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Elite Eight: Florida vs. Louisville – Early notes

Following consecutive victories in Sweet 16 action on Thursday evening, the No. 7-seed Florida Gators and No. 3-seed Louisville Cardinals set in stone their match-up in the West Region’s Elite Eight as part of the 2012 NCAA Tournament on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. live on CBS. Below is a post-game video along with some early notes on the game.

POST-GAME LOCKER ROOM CELEBRATION VIDEO
The video below is courtesy of UF’s GatorVision.tv.

EARLY NOTES

» Florida head coach Billy Donovan, who played under Louisville head coach Rick Pitino at Providence and was an assistant coach on his staff at Kentucky from 1989-1994, is 0-6 all-time against his mentor.

» Donovan and Pitino each have an ace up their respective sleeve for Saturday’s contest as the Gators and Cardinals traded staff members after last season. Former Florida assistant Richard Pitino is now an assistant with Louisville while former UL team manager Billy O’Meara is now UF’s assistant video coordinator after spending five years working under the elder Pitino.

» Gators freshman guard Bradley Beal has become more aggressive and is averaging 17 points per game on 54 percent shooting (43 percent from three) with 8.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.4 blocks in the 2012 postseason.

» Florida as a team is hitting 77 percent of its foul shots in the postseason and has taken at least 15 attempts from the line in four of the last five games.

» The Gators’ defense has improved immensely in the NCAA Tournament. Florida’s three opponents are averaging just 51 points (with no team scoring more than 58) while shooting 31 percent from the field and 21 percent from beyond the arc.

» UF’s three-point shooting, however, has been less than impressive in the tourney. The Gators are averaging just seven treys per game (down from 10 during the regular season) and are shooting just 27 percent from beyond the arc.

» The Cardinals knocked off No. 1-seed Michigan State for the opportunity to play in the Elite Eight. Louisville is on a seven-game winning streak dating back to March 7 which includes victories over six NCAA Tournament teams including MSU, Notre Dame, Davidson, Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Marquette.

» Louisville’s NCAA Tournament defense has also been impressive. The Cardinals have held their three opponents to an average of 54 points on 35 percent shooting from the floor and 22 percent from downtown.

ESPN DISCUSSES FLORIDA’S DEFENSE AND SWEET 16 WIN

Stick with OGGOA over the next two days leading up to the Florida-Louisville game.

Photo Credit: Rich Clarkson/Sports Illustrated

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FOUR BITS: Sturgis, Tebow, transfers, Humphrey

1 » Though he has been garnered similar honors by other outlets, Florida Gators redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis was awarded a spot on the 2011 Associated Press All-American Team on Wednesday. Sturgis was placed on the second team while Texas A&M K Randy Bullock earned the first-team nomination. He was similarly given a second-team nod on the 2011 Walter Camp All-American list and recently was a finalist (but did not win) the 2011 Lou Groza Award, as announced last Thursday. Named unanimously to the All-SEC first-team by coaches and AP voters, Sturgis accounted for 91 points this season, going 21-for-25 on field goals and 28-for-28 on extra points.

2 » Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow appears to be going head-to-head with a former teammate every week. After taking on Minnesota (with wide receiver Percy Harvin) two weeks ago and Chicago (with safety Major Wright) last week, Tebow will play the New England Patriots on Sunday, where he will square off with linebacker Brandon Spikes and tight end Aaron Hernandez. The latter told the Boston Herald’s Ian Rapoport on Thursday that he still supports and believe in his former teammate. “He keeps plays alive, and he’s winning,” Hernandez said. “[He was] a leader. I’m sure he still is. He brought a lot of energy to the game. When someone has energy, you take from it.” Tebow shared his admiration for Hernandez as well. “He makes any quarterback he’s with look at lot better,” he said. “He’s a phenomenal player, one of those guys when you need competitive excellence and you need someone to step up and make a big play, he’s always ready and willing. I’m just proud of him for what he’s done as an NFL player and what he did with me at Florida.”

3 » Two former Gators are on their way to Louisville, KY and could be one step closer to playing with former Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, now head coach of the Louisville Cardinals. According to a number of reports, transfers tight end Gerald Christian and wide receiver Robert Clark will be visiting the school beginning Friday as they search for a spot to spend their final two years of eligibility. Each will have to redshirt the 2012 season and will be eligible to resume playing college football in 2013.

4 » Back in the United States, former Gators guard Lee Humphrey is now playing for the Rio Grande Vipers of the NBA Development League. The official minor league team of the NBA’s Houston Rockets (which drafted forward Chandler Parsons this year), the Vipers are nine games into the season and have Humphrey playing 29.1 minutes per game, second-most on the team. Though he’s had some big moments already this year, Humphrey is averaging just 11.8 points and 3.1 assists per game. He is shooting 38.5 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from downtown.

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FOUR BITS: Two days of ESPN, Pitino’s new job

1 » The Florida Gators were all over ESPN on Wednesday with Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden, Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey and senior C Mike Pouncey making appearances. Below are videos of the interviews conducted with Haden and the Pounceys on First Take by Jay Crawford and Dana Jacobson:

2 » The Gators-on-ESPN theme will continue Thursday with head coach Will Muschamp being put through the “car wash” ringer in Bristol, CT. His Thursday schedule, according to the University of Florida is as follows:

10:20 a.m – SportsCenter (LIVE, ESPN)
11:05 a.m. – First Take (LIVE, ESPN2)
11:45 a.m. – The Herd (LIVE, ESPN Radio)
1:00 p.m. – ESPN U College Football podcast with Ivan Maisel
3:30 p.m. – College Football Live – (taped, ESPN2)
4:00 p.m. – SportsNation (taped, ESPN2)
4:10 p.m. – SportsCenter (LIVE)
1-4 p.m. – Scott Van Pet Radio Show (taped, ESPN Radio)

3 » Though former Florida assistant basketball coach Richard Pitino will indeed be leaving the Gators for a job under his father with the Louisville Cardinals (if a deal can be worked out), he will not be named the head coach-in-waiting, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal’s C.L. Brown. “That’s not the way I operate,” athletic director Tom Jurich said. “I would never put that kidn of pressure on him, and I don’t think Rick [Pitino] would want that kind of pressure on him.” The older Pitino said his son rejoining his staff is” far from official” though it is in the works.

4 » Former Florida basketball assistant Lewis Preston will be named head coach at Kennesaw State Owls, according to FOX Sports. Preston has been an assistant with the Penn State Nittany Lions since 2008.

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FOUR BITS: Johnson, Pitino, Joyer, Dunker

1 » It is quite obvious that former Florida Gators guard Carl Johnson is a large man. Florida fans have known this for quite some time and NFL folks got to see it for themselves during the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine when he weighed in at an event-high 361 lbs. However, Johnson’s size is not solely due to eating habits or not working out but rather the medicine he takes to combat his Crohn’s Disease. “[It’s] like arthritis in your intestines,” he told the Palm Beach Post’s Ben Volin. “Crohn’s patients are known for dropping massive amounts of weight, like 20 pounds in a week. So [the medicine] makes me gain weight. It makes me retain water. But it also keeps me alive, so it’s a double-edged sword.” Luckily for Johnson, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard (who also has the disease) has been there for him from the beginning. Read more about his struggles with the disease and preparation for the 2011 NFL Draft.

2 » He may be a bit biased due to his son being an assistant on the team and the fact that he coached Florida head coach Billy Donovan while both were at Providence, but Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino tabbed the Gators as his dark horse candidate for a national title during a recent appearance on the Colin Cowherd show on ESPN Radio. “Everybody overlooks Florida,” he said. “Obviously Billy Donovan played for me, but I think Florida’s the type of team with three seniors in the front court with a very quick backcourt. They’re a team that could beat anyone on a given night. I look at Florida. Although they are ranked [12th] in the nation, nobody talks about them as a potential national champion. But they have the experience in their head coach, they have the experience in the frontcourt, the returning backcourt.”

3 » You have to be strong in order to play fullback and linebacker. You have to be even stronger to carry your family on your back when your mother suffers a cerebral aneurysm, undergoes multiple surgeries and has years of recovery ahead of her. Florida freshman FB Hunter Joyer is both after helping his family survive the frightening near-loss of his mom. “To have her there to be able to share in that moment was amazing,” Hunter said of his mom joining him on National Signing Day. “I couldn’t imagine how upset I would be if she wasn’t there. Signing with Florida was one of my lifelong dreams, and she was there to share it and take pictures with me.”

4 » Four-star tackle Jessamen Dunker (Boynton Beach, FL) looks to be one of the top offensive lineman available in the 2012 recruiting class, and the Gators are already making a strong push for him. Having visited Florida for Junior Day already, Dunker was impressed with head coach Will Muschamp, the campus and town; he hopes to learn more about the school as he goes through the recruiting process. “I had a good time while they were showing me around,” Dunker told the Post. “I was driving through [Gainesville] and it seems like a place I could live.”

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FOUR BITS: Quinn, Black, Strong, Rosario

1 » Florida Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who has mostly been out on the road recruiting since the Seattle Seahawks were eliminated from the NFL Playoffs, has been assigned the Jacksonville, FL area as his primary recruiting grounds, according to The Florida Times-Union. The Times-Union’s Hays Carlyon reports that Quinn visited a number of area high schools on Friday and notes that Florida could be interested in two Yulee High School players over the next two seasons – tight end/linebacker Kelvin Rainey in 2012 and running back Derrick Henry in 2013.

2 » When former Gators safety Ahmad Black presented the game ball from the 2011 Outback Bowl to Ian Lockwood, it was obvious the two (and then-head coach Urban Meyer) had formed a special bond. In Mobile, AL for the 2011 Under Armour Senior Bowl, Black spoke with the Pensacola News Journal about his friendship with Lockwood and how the two became so close so quickly. “He opened the door to the Florida football program,” said Lockwood’s high school football coach Chad Lashley. “That has meant the world to Ian. It just shows the unbelievable character of Ahmad and his concern for other people. With him getting that interception, it was just the perfect ending.” You can read more thoughts from Black and Lashley by clicking here.

3 » Taking the Louisville Cardinals to a 7-6 record and earning Big East Co-Coach of the Year honors in 2010, head coach Charlie Strong appears to be in line for a new contract with a substantial raise, according to The Louisville Courier-Journal, which spoke with athletic director Tom Jurich. “We want to do [give him a raise], but this staff has been busy and they’re doing a great job, so when signing day is over and we get some time, we’re definitely going to address that,” Jurich said. “It’s been great that he’s been able to keep his staff together to this point, and I can tell you those guys are really getting after it and they’re having a great time. They’re on a rocket ship right now, and it’s fun to watch.” Louisville doing what it can to keep Strong now may prevent him leaving until a significantly better job is available a few years down the road. He currently earns $1.6 million per season.

4 » Redshirt junior guard Mike Rosario is biding his time helping Florida improve during practice while he waits out a NCAA-mandated transfer season. An article written for CNN profiling Rosario’s hall of fame high school head coach Bob Hurley, Sr. notes that the player once the star of one of Hurley’s teams and describes him as a “hot-tempered kid who used basketball as a refuge from the life in a housing project.” Rosario recounted his time playing for Hurley. “He started disciplining me like I was one of his sons,” he said. “It was to the point where I was like, ‘Wow, I had never been pushed like this in my life.’ I learned how to be a man and not a boy.”

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