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Florida eliminates FGCU, makes NCAA Elite Eight

ARLINGTON, Texas — It was one heck of a ball, but the clock finally hit midnight on Cinderella.

Florida Gulf Coast, the upstart team from Estero (aka, Dunk City) that became the first No. 15 seed ever to advance to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, had its storybook season ended by No. 3 seed Florida.

The Gators fell behind early, rallied, then held on for a 62-50 victory Friday night over the Eagles in a South Region semifinal before 40,639 at Cowboys Stadium.

"As a team, I was confident coming into this game that we were going to win," Florida senior guard Kenny Boynton said. "I'm happy to survive and advance. As bad as we started out, I'm happy for my team we fought back so hard."

The Gators (29-7), one of four teams to reach the Sweet 16 the past three seasons, will advance to their third consecutive NCAA Elite Eight appearance. Florida has reached at least the Elite Eight in five of the past seven seasons.

FGCU (26-11) had led at the half in 21 of its previous 22 games, but it trailed 30-26 at halftime Friday night, thanks to a furious comeback by the Gators, who outscored FGCU 16-2 to end the first half.

UF struggled badly early, hitting 2-of-7 in the first five minutes with no 3-pointers. The Gators missed not only from outside but seemingly easy floaters and short jumpers just would not fall.

The Eagles countered by hitting 75 percent in the first five minutes, and 58 percent midway through the half.

And the Gators did precisely what they said they couldn't afford to do: fall behind early.

With the score tied at 4, FGCU went on an 11-0 run to take a 15-4 lead off Chase Fieler's 3-pointer with 13:59 remaining in the first half. With the Gators trailing 21-11 after Eddie Murray's crowd-rousing slam dunk for FGCU, Florida guards Mike Rosario (game-high 15 points) and Tampa's Michael Frazier combined to hit three 3-pointers to pull Florida within 24-20 with 4:19 remaining in the half.

Those shots were crucial in the Gators' comeback run.

After a 4-of-20 start, UF finished the first half 7-of-20, shooting 34.3 percent.

Florida wound up shooting 38.6 percent (22-of-57) but forced 20 turnovers.

"We just kept doing what we were doing because we were getting good shots, but the shots just weren't falling," UF guard Scottie Wilbekin said. "We did a good job staying together and not getting dejected. Our defense kept us in the game. Overall it was not one of our best games, it was probably our worst."

The Eagles came out on fire early, then struggled as the Gator defense intensified. FGCU hit five of its first six shots, then went 5-of-17 from the field, 0-for-4 from beyond the arc — until midway into the second half. The Eagles wound up shooting 45.5 percent (20-of-44).

The Eagles had been bolstered by point guard Brett Comer, whose smooth running of the offense stymied the Gators early. Comer had six assists with 7:35 remaining in the first half, but finished with seven assists and nine turnovers.

Antonya English can be reached at english@tampabay.com.

Florida eliminates FGCU, makes NCAA Elite Eight 03/29/13 [Last modified: Saturday, March 30, 2013 5:14pm]
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