Michigan rolls as Gators fall short again
ARLINGTON, Texas -
Erik Murphy put his head down in his lap inside the Florida locker room and cried. Out on the Cowboys Stadium court, Michigan players were cutting down the nets after claiming the South Region title and handing the Gators their worst loss of the season and the second-worst defeat ever in the NCAA tournament, 79-59. And it probably wasn't that close. Adding to the insult, Florida became the first school to lose three consecutive regional title games in the modern era. It was also the largest margin of victory in a regional final since Duke beat Temple by 21 points (85-64) in the 1999 East Region title game. Michigan secured its first Final Four trip since 1993 and will face East Region winner Syracuse on Saturday in Atlanta. Murphy was a summary of Florida's frustration in the last three years - coming so close to a Final Four yet so far away. "It was just me," said Murphy, who averaged 12.6 points coming into the game but went 0-for-11 vs. the Wolverines and was held scoreless. "It was just me. The shots didn't go in. They just didn't fall for me tonight." Actually, they fell for no one on the Gators' side. Florida (29-8) made two of 10 shots behind the arc and scored most of its points when the game, for all practical intents, was over.
"I just feel terrible for him because I know he was trying," center Patric Young, who had just eight points himself, said of Murphy's shutout. "He was giving his best effort out there. I don't know what it was today, his confidence or just nerves, the pressure. I just feel so terrible for the guy." Young will take some time now to decide about his own future. "I'm going to catch up on school, take a little bit of time away and talk to my family. I'm going to do whatever I feel is best," he said of possibly leaving for the NBA, although it's doubtful right now he would forecast as a first-round draft pick. The Wolverines (30-7) scored the first 13 points, six by Mitch McGary, who had 11 for the game and nine rebounds. It was his early burst that almost immediately put Florida on its heels. Michigan led 23-5 when Casey Prather broke a long scoreless streak for the Gators with a bucket off a rebound at 10:39. "Those guys made shots," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "And sometimes at this point in the season you've got to hop up and make some shots. ... We just did not finish plays at all." Florida had made just two of 15 shots from the field at that point. It wouldn't get much better. Young picked up his second foul just two minutes into the game. "It was really frustrating because the first one was a terrible call. It was just a physical play," Young said. "The second one I deserved. It was just really frustrating because I know I needed to be out there to help with rebounding and containing Trey Burke on the pick and rolls. "It was difficult to have to sit on the bench so early, and then to have to come back out and try not to pick up a third was a lot of pressure as well."
UF point guard Scottie Wilbekin was 1 of 6 shooting with four turnovers and four points Michigan, on the other hand, couldn't have played any better. Nik Stauskas, who scored 19 of his game-high 22 points in the first half, hit his fifth straight 3-point attempt to make it 41-17 late in the first half. "I didn't expect that," Wolverines coach John Beilein said of Stauskas. "But we see him every day." Florida scratched back to within 47-30 at the break and opened the second half with a six straight points. But that was as close as the Gators would get. Stauskas, the first player in an NCAA regional to go 6-for-6 in one game behind the arc, hit another 3-pointer to make it 50-36. "We didn't think Stauskas had the ability to shoot as well as he did tonight and the ability to score as well as he did. Him being able to do that makes them so much better," Young said. Kenny Boynton, who along with Will Yeguete had 13 points, scored in the lane to try to start another Gators run. But Michigan responded with a 15-6 run that made it 65-44 and ended any hopes of a Florida miracle comeback.
"That was our focus coming out of halftime," Wilbekin said. "We were trying to cut the lead possession by possession. We went on a little run there, but we had a couple of dumb plays and gave them buckets. ... We didn't really play that smart. We missed easy shots, we missed 3's and they played great. You can't win like that." In the end, it wasn't really a game that Florida had much chance of winning - unlike its last two Elite Eight losses to Butler (2011) and Louisville. "I think the better team won today," confessed Boynton. "They were a better team. I really wish we could start again, but we can't." Florida's previous worst loss of the season was 80-69 at Arkansas on Feb. 5. The Gators' worst loss in NCAA tourney history is 108-85, also to the Wolverines, in 1988 in Salt Lake City. Michigan's 47 first half points were the most Florida has allowed in any half this season, almost matching the average points allowed in a game by the Gators (53.7, third best nationally) in the first 20 minutes.
Burke, named the region's outstanding player, hit the shot to force overtime in Michigan's upset win over Kansas on Friday. On Sunday he finished with 15 points, seven assists and three steals despite back spasms. Similar play could vault Michigan into a national title. "We know that we're all capable of stepping up," Burke said. "At the beginning of the year everybody was seeing how good everybody is and how everybody can contribute on the offensive end. During the middle of the year we weren't as defensive as a team but we continued to learn and grow." Added guard Tim Hardaway Jr.: "We really want to make a statement and leave our names and legacy at the University of Michigan." A couple more wins and he'll have his wish. For the Gators, it's another season of almost.