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Sunday March 31, 2013Michigan Too Much for Florida as Gators' Season Comes to an End in Elite Eight

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

ARLINGTON, Texas -- So here they are again.

Elite enough to get here, but unable to move on. 

This time, though, it wasn't the slow, painful, nails-to-the-blackboard ending of the last two seasons. Not even close. 

Michigan's 79-59 vaporizing of the Florida Gators in Sunday's South Region championship game was as deadly as it was decisive, a beginning-to-end, inside-and-out, never-in-the-game outing that marked one of the worst NCAA Tournament defeats in Florida basketball history.

Freshman guard Nik Stauskas scored 22 points on a blistering 6-for-6 from 3-point range, while heralded point guard Trey Burke stuffed the box score with 15 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals, as the fourth-seeded Wolverines dominated from the opening tip to the final horn in handing third-seeded UF its third straight loss in a regional title game. 

"We struggled to score, we turned the ball over, didn't play smart on defense -- and they got everything they wanted," junior center Patric Young said. "We made it easy on them, difficult on us." 

Wasted no time doing so, too. 

The Gators (29-8) watched the Wolverines (30-7) score the game's first 13 points and trailed by double-figures the rest of the way, including a 24-point deficit with four minutes to go in the first half.  

"When you're playing from behind like that, it's so hard to try and get back in the game because you're trying to do things, trying to catch up, instead of taking it possession by possession," UF freshman guard Michael Frazier said. "It's only human that you want to do things to get your team back in the game, but the reality is there are no 5- or 10-point shots." 

Maybe not, but some of Stauskas' bombs must have felt like it on the UF bench. 

The Gators went into the game knowing one of the best defenses in the country would be tested by arguably the best offense in the country. Their plan centered on Burke; trying to keep him from penetrating too deep into the lane and prevent him from scoring or finding teammates, such as flammable guard Tim Hardaway, Jr., for easy baskets. 

Burke, UM's leading scorer at 18.9 points per game, and Hardaway, the Wolverines' No. 2 scorer at 14.8, combined to go 8-for-29 from the floor and finished eight points below their combined season average. 

Stauskas, meanwhile, doubled his average with his best scoring night in four months. 

Five of his six treys came in the first half, with four from the deep corner wing. They were all daggers, too; the first put UM up 7-0, the second 23-5, the third 30-11 and back to backs that made the score 41-17 with four minutes to go in the first half. 

"My shot felt good, so I was letting it fly," Stauskas said. 

UF's players had no such feeling. 

The Gators made just three of their first 16 shots (18 percent), with a flurry of frustrating in-close misses that looked a little like what they were able to overcome Friday night against a vastly inferior opponent in Florida Gulf Coast. 

"Those guys made shots," UF coach Billy Donovan said of the Wolverines. "Sometimes, at this point in the season, you've got to hop up and make some shots. [Michigan] made hard ones and difficult ones." 

Florida missed a lot of everything. 

"Layups, floaters, mid-range, threes, post hooks," junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said, running down the list. "We couldn't make any of 'em." 

No UF player illustrated that more than senior forward Erik Murphy. One of the best 3-point shooters in the country, Murphy struggled to the worst game of his career: 0-for-11 from the floor, eight rebounds and three turnovers. 

"We just couldn't get into our offense," Murphy said. "And the shots weren't falling." 

The Gators, who rely so much on the 3-point line in their offense, went just 2-for-10 from the arc, making them 6-for-25 -- that's 24 percent -- in two regional games inside vast Cowboys Stadium.  

"Our offense deflated us," Donovan said. 

The Gators got 13 points from Kenny Boynton, plus 13 points and seven rebounds from reserve forward Will Yeguete. 

"They were just a better team than we were today," Yeguete said. 

The Wolverines made 46 percent, including 10-for-19 from distance (52.6). They also raced to a 21-4 edge in fast-break points against a UF team deeper than Michigan's. 

No opponent -- no, not even Arkansas -- made Florida look so ordinary this season.

"When you're down 20 points in the first half, it's hard to bounce back against a very good offensively efficiency team like that," senior guard Mike Rosario said. "We give them credit."

Florida trailed by 17 at the half, but showed life coming out of the locker room in scoring the first six points of the second period to cut the lead to 11. 

Twice the Gators had chances to trim the margin to single-digits, but after failing to capitalize on those possessions, the Wolverines got a driving bank shot from Mitch McGary (11 points, 9 rebounds). Then, on the ensuing inbounds, Yeguete's simple pass was picked off under the basket by backup point guard Spike Albrecht, who laid the ball in for a layup. 

"In a game like this, you can't do that," Donovan said. "We hurt ourselves with the way we played." 

Just like that, UM was back up 16. A few minutes later, it was 18 -- one point more than the deficit at the break -- and all the second-half energy UF's players brought from the locker room had evaporated. 

When the final horn sounded, the Wolverines celebrated their first trip to the Final Four since 1993, while the Gators were left to ponder another inspired NCAA run -- like the Elite Eight loss to Butler two years ago; the one to Louisville last year -- that fell a game short of college basketball's grandest stage. 

"You have to deal with the highs and lows of the tournament," Donovan said. "I wish our team could have played better. I wish they could walk out of that locker room and say we played our very best game, did our best and just came up short." 

 No one could say that. No one could say much of anything. 

 

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