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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(7) Florida Gators advance to second-straight Elite Eight with 68-58 victory over (3) Marquette

The No. 7-seed Florida Gators (26-10) will compete for a Final Four berth for the second-straight season after advancing to the Elite Eight on the heels of a 68-56 victory over the No. 3-seed Marquette Golden Eagles (27-8) in the Sweet 16 round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament at the US Airways Center in Phoenix, AZ.

Competing in the West Region, Florida will face No. 4-seed Louisville (which defeated No. 1-seed Michigan State 57-44 in the previous game) on Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

The Gators were led, as they have been all postseason, by freshman guard Bradley Beal, who posted a game-high 21 points on extremely efficient shooting. Beal was 8-of-10 from the field and 3-for-5 from beyond the arc; he also grabbed six rebounds (two offensive), dished four assists, swiped two steals and registered two blocks.

Senior point guard Erving Walker and junior G Kenny Boynton each struggled with their shooting but combined to go 10-for-11 from the charity stripe. Walker and Boynton both scored 11 points and combined for seven boards, seven dimes and a pair of steals.

Marquette jumped ahead by five early as Florida started 2-for-9 from the field and UF junior forward Erik Murphy missed his first four shots. The Gators and Golden Eagles then jockeyed back-and-forth with impressive scoring stretches until Boynton tied the contest at 15 after completing a four-point play.

UF went on their second run of the half, a 7-0 stretch, as MU forward Jae Crowder went to the bench with his second foul. Sophomore PG Scottie Wilbekin drained a three after sophomore G/F Casey Prather scored four-straight points including a highlight twisting finish on an alley-oop by Boynton.

After falling behind three while being outscored 10-3 by the Golden Eagles, the Gators ended the first half on a 9-0 run lasting 3:47 to take a six-point lead into the break.

Florida extended that advantage to a game-high 14 points early in the second half as Murphy ended his cold streak (he started 0-for-8 from the field and 0-for-5 from downtown) by draining a three with the shot clock winding down. Beal followed that up with his third trey of the game only to have Murphy find the bottom of the net again after he finished on a driving layup. The 8-0 run extended an impressive scoring stretch by the Gators to 21-4 including the nine-straight points they scored to end the first half.

Marquette was able to answer Florida as UF fell into a shooting drought lasting 4:07. The Gators went 0-for-6 from the field as the Golden Eagles scored six-straight points to cut their deficit to eight points. Florida’s tough shooting continued as the team went 2-for-11 with three turnovers since achieving their game-high lead, but the Gators began attacking the basket again and went back up 12, 56-44, with 4:54 left in the contest.

MU refused to relent, however, scoring seven-straight points (including five by G Todd Mayo) to cut UF’s lead to six points with 3:20 remaining. Walker and Crowder traded threes to keep the Gators’ lead at six, but Boynton hit five of six free throws down the stretch to clinch the victory for Florida.

Though Murphy had a tough shooting night with just seven points while going 3-of-13 from the field and 1-for-8 from three, he registered a season-high and game-high 10 rebounds (one short of his career-best). The Gators added 11 bench points (all scored in the first half) and six from sophomore center Patric Young, who did not get the ball much but cradled nine boards including a game-high five off the offensive glass.

Crowder led the Golden Eagles with 15 points and the team’s leading scorer, G Darius Johnson-Odom, posted just 14. Both players went just 5-of-15 from the field and Marquette as a team shot just 30.8 percent from the floor.

UF won the rebounding margin 39-34 and had 15 assists on 24 made baskets. The Gators also hit 86.7 percent of their free throws and registered six blocks on the evening.

Florida will advance to face Louisville at 4:30 p.m. on CBS in what will be the seventh career meeting between Donovan and his former head coach Rick Pitino. Donovan is 0-6 all-time against Pitino including 0-2 since he took over the Louisville program.

Photo Credit: Chris Carlson/Associated Press

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NCAA Sweet 16: (7) Florida vs. (3) Marquette

Location: US Airways Center – Phoenix, AZ [Capacity: 18, 422]
Time: 10:17 p.m. (ET)

TV: TBS/TBSHD
SiriusXM: 93/191
Online Video: TBS.com
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

(7) FLORIDA GATORS (3) MU GOLDEN EAGLES
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Buzz Williams
Record: 25-10 Record: 27-7
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Big East
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida +2; O/U 146.5

KNOW THE OPPONENT

No. 3-seed Marquette, which has won 15 of their last 18 games dating back to Jan. 11, registered a dominant second-round victory (88-68) over Brigham Young before taking down No. 6-seed Murray State in third-round action to advance to the Sweet 16. The Golden Eagles went 15-5 against Big East opponents in 2011-12 but lost by 17 to Vanderbilt, the only SEC team they played this season.

Forward Jae Crowder, the 2012 Big East Player of the Year, is Marquette’s top weapon, averaging 17.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.0 block in 33.0 minutes per game. He also shots .504 from the field, .353 from three and .732 from the line. Joining him in leading the Golden Eagles is guard Darius Johnson-Odom, who averages 18.5 points and shoots 38.9 percent from downtown. Marquette does not have any other double-digit scorers but features five other players that see at least 19 minutes of action and score at least 6.5 points per game.

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Florida is making its 15th NCAA Tournament appearance all-time and 12th under Donovan. The Gators are 31-12 all time in the event (27-9 under Donovan) with two national titles in three championship game appearances and four trips to the Final Four. The team is making its seventh Sweet 16 appearance and is hoping to earn its sixth-ever and second-straight trip to the Elite Eight.
» Marquette leads the all-time series against Florida 2-0 winning consecutive games in the 1970s. UF, however, is 16-9 against Big East teams under Donovan.
» The Gators are 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.
» The Golden Eagles are making their 30th NCAA Tournament appearance all-time and fifth under Williams. Marquette is in the Sweet 16 for the 15th time and is hoping to reach their seventh Elite Eight and first since 2003.
» Florida has made a three in 686 consecutive games dating back to Jan. 1992.
» The Gators have registered a school record and nation-high in three-pointers this season with 342 over 35 games; the 9.8 treys per game is No. 1 in the country.
» All five of UF’s normal starters are averaging 10.3 points per game or more.
» Florida is 18-2 (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 238-39 since 1998-99 when recording 15 or more assists in a game and 290-37 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, MU is 9-6 against the same field with losses to a No. 1 seed (Syracuse), No. 3 seed (Georgetown), two No. 4 seeds (Louisville) and a No. 5 seed (Vanderbilt) and others.

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