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Saturday March 24, 2012Shots Stopped Dropping for Gators in End When They Needed Them Most

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

PHOENIX – In the locker stall next to Kenny Boynton, Gators teammate Bradley Beal tried to share some perspective on what had transpired only minutes earlier.

Beal talked about the Gators’ careless ball handling during short stretches late in the game, how they stopped attacking the basket when they shouldn’t have, and how Louisville switching from a matchup zone to a man-to-man defense after halftime caused the Gators problems in Saturday’s crushing 72-68 loss to the Cardinals in the NCAA West Region final.

Meanwhile, Boynton barely moved, slumped deep inside his locker. The junior guard stared at his smart phone lost in his own world until a reporter poked his head in to ask a few questions.

There were no easy answers for what unfolded here at US Airways Arena early Saturday evening. The Gators were in control and then they weren’t.

An 11-point lead with 8:16 remaining suddenly turned into a 69-68 deficit with 1:06 left. The torrid shooting the Gators flashed from behind the 3-point line before halftime had long exited the building.

In fact, Boynton’s layup with 2:39 left in the game proved to be the Gators’ final points with a Final Four berth on the line. Florida missed its final six shots, including a pair of 3s from Beal and Boynton to tie with less than 10 seconds left.

Louisville’s Wayne Blackshear iced the victory for the Cardinals by making 1 of 2 FTs with 2.7 seconds remaining.

Boynton couldn’t shake the disappointment of another Final Four berth slipping away in the final moments of the Elite Eight.

“We didn’t finish how we should have,’’ Boynton said. “We’re a good team. A lot of people didn’t expect us to be here, but overall, every player in here knows we should have went further. We expected to go further in this tournament.”

In the first half the Gators looked well on their way to advancing to a fourth Final Four under head coach Billy Donovan. Florida made 8 of 11 shots from beyond the 3-point line and took a 41-33 lead into halftime.

They stretched the lead to 11 in the second half but Louisville closed with an 18-3 run to shoot down Florida’s season. In the final moments, neither Beal nor Boynton nor senior guard Erving Walker could hit from outside when the Gators desperately needed a bucket.

The guard trio combined to go 6-for-9 from beyond the arc in the first half; after halftime they were 0-for-9 – Boynton missed four 3s, Walker three and Beal two.

“Coach came in and said they are going to be a totally different team coming out in the second half, and they were,’’ said Beal, who finished with a team-high 14 points along with forward Erik Murphy. “They were a lot more aggressive on offense, and on defense they just started switching on us and taking away the 3. We were hitting so many 3s that I guess we just started to rely on them.

“We couldn’t find other ways to score.”

Beal said he thought his 3-point attempt to tie the game at 71-all had a chance to go in, but it bounced off the rim. Florida got the rebound but Boynton then missed another try from 3-point range.

That is when Blackshear was fouled after the rebound and went to the line to ice the game.

“We ran a play to get Brad off a pick and he had a good look,’’ Boynton said of the final sequence. “It just bounced off. And then I happened to get open and missed it.”

Donovan’s concerns about Louisville’s change in defense proved to come to fruition, resulting in one of the more disappointing losses of his career.

The Gators were unable to advance despite Cardinals guard Peyton Siva, the team’s floor and emotional leader, fouling out with 3:58 left.

When the shots stopped falling for the Gators, their quest to get to New Orleans was derailed.

“I was concerned going into the game with just a one-day prep really being able to attack their match‑up zone,’’ Donovan said. “Our guys did a terrific job the first half, attacking it, moving it, passing the basketball. And we obviously forced them in the second half to play a lot of man-to-man.

“There were a couple [of shots] I was not happy with, I’ll say that. I really thought getting them out of that zone would have played better into our hands. We’ve seen switching all year long.”

The loss was especially difficult on Walker, who came under criticism at the end of last season’s loss to Butler in the Elite Eight for failing to knock down shots in the end.

Walker joined Donovan and Beal at the press conference immediately following his final college game. A four-year regular in the lineup, Walker scored 12 points on 3 of 10 shooting in his final college game. He added a game-high seven assists.

Like Boynton, his backcourt partner the last three seasons, a teary-eyed Walker struggled to make sense of another missed opportunity on the doorstep of the Final Four.

“It feels terrible. We had a lead and gave it up late,’’ Walker said. “Everyone was devastated [in the locker room]. We all hurt.

“I had a great four years here, the best four years of my life.”


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