The Florida Gator men’s basketball season continues to get sweeter, as the Orange and Blue bounced back from an early double digit deficit to eliminate 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast University from NCAA Tournament contention with a 62-50 win that advances the Gators to the Elite Eight for the third consecutive year and for the fifth time in the past eight seasons.
FGCU opened up the game with the same flamboyant firepower on offense that has epitomized their style of play in the tournament. The Eagles utilized an 11-0 run in the opening minutes to extend their lead to 15-4 six minutes into the contest; that would be their largest lead of the game, as the Gators reeled in FGCU and closed the gap as the first half wore on. Trailing 24-14 with 5:23 remaining, Florida pushed the pace and took charge of the game with a 16-0 run to take their first lead and enter halftime with a 30-26 advantage.
Florida outscored the Atlantic Sun champions 32-24 in the second stanza, keeping leverage over the Eagles and keeping the gap hovering in double digits for the majority of the final 20 minutes.
The regional semi-final game marked the 24th time in the 2012-2013 campaign that the Gators have held their opponent to under 60 points. Friday night’s game was tied for the lowest point total scored by the Eagles this season.
Each team had three players in double figures scoring. For the second straight game, senior Mike Rosario led the Gators in scoring, netting 15 points on a 6-14 night shooting from the field. Rosario’s five rebounds was tied for the team lead with forward Patric Young, who tallied three steals but only scored four points. Scottie Wilbekin had 13 points, while Casey Prather shone bright off the bench with 11 points and four rebounds in 26 minutes of action. Will Yeguete made his presence felt on the defensive front, recording a career high four steals and two blocks with two points.
The Eagles were led on the stat sheet by Sherwood Brown, who finished his collegiate career with a team high 14 points and six rebounds. Forward Chase Fieler had 12 points and tied Brown with six rebounds. Christophe Varidel swished 10 points in 15 minutes off the pine.
Two three point plays by Kenny Boynton helped stretch Florida’s lead in the second half and he talks about coach Billy Donovan’s message in the locker room, and the necessity of keeping FGCU’s offense in check.
Florida’s performance was spearheaded by strong defense. The Gators forced 20 turnovers, nine of which came from the hands of starting guard Brett Comer. Offense was difficult to come by at times, shooting 22-of-57 from the field (38.6%) and only 4-15 from long range (26.7%). Donovan talks about the contributions of individual players to the victory, and the difficulty of getting shots to fall despite good shot selection.
Size on the interior aided the Gators in their quest for success as well. UF outrebounded the Eagles on the offensive glass 13-5.
With the victory, Florida moves to 17-1 against lower seeded teams in their last 18 NCAA Tournament games.
The Gators will square off against the fourth seeded Michigan Wolverines in the regional final, following the Maize and Blue’s 14 point comeback to knock off top seeded Kansas in overtime Friday night. Tipoff for Sunday’s Elite Eight contest at Cowboys Stadium is slated for 2:20pm.