Michigan into Final Four with victory over Florida
ARLINGTON, TEXAS Trey Burke grew up in the shadow of another Big Ten university. Mitch McGary was more of a baseball fan as a kid, and still dreams of a World Series for the Chicago Cubs.
They are now part of a new generation of fabulous young Wolverines going to the Final Four, the first for Michigan since the Fab Five two decades ago, after a dominating performance Sunday in the South Regional final.
Michigan scored the game’s first 13 points and led by double figures the rest of the way in a 79-59 rout of Florida, the Southeastern Conference regular-season champion with a senior-filled roster and playing its third consecutive regional final.
“I’m sure the Fab Five is proud of us. We still have some work to do. We’re not done,” said McGary, who scored eight points and had six rebounds in that opening spurt and is one of three freshman starters.
That fast start was much different than two days earlier against top-seeded Kansas, when the No. 4 Wolverines (30-7) had to wipe out a 14-point deficit in the final 7 minutes. They forced overtime on Burke’s long 3-pointer just to get to their first regional final in 19 years.
“We felt today the key was to come out and throw the first punch,” said Burke, the sophomore from Columbus, Ohio, where he cheered for Buckeyes football and Duke basketball.
Florida (29-8) was quickly staggering and never recovered, ending another season one victory shy of the Final Four. Coach Billy Donovan’s Gators haven’t been there since winning consecutive national titles in 2006 and 2007.
“We’ve almost become numb to it now. Been here before,” Gators junior center Patric Young said. “I just really wish we were out there cutting the nets down.”
Nik Stauskas scored 22 points while making all six of his 3-point attempts for Michigan. Burke, the South Region’s most outstanding player and Big Ten player of the year as a sophomore, scored 15 points even while dealing with some spasms in his upper back. McGary finished with 11 points and nine rebounds.
Michigan hadn’t reached the Final Four since consecutive national championship game appearances in 1992 and 1993, the freshman and sophomore seasons of the Fab Five: Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King.
Webber was gone before that team’s 1994 regional final loss to Arkansas played in the now-demolished Reunion Arena in Dallas, with Rose and Howard following him to the NBA after that.
With four wins in this NCAA tourney, the Wolverines already have more tournament victories than their combined three from the end of the Fab Five era to this season. After winning a first-round game in 1998, they didn’t even make the field again until 2009.
Now they’re back in the Final Four with another young group.
“It’s crazy. Coming into this, I knew we could be a great team, I knew we could do some things,” said Glenn Robinson III, another of the starting freshmen. “But I never knew it would lead to all this.”
The Gators, meanwhile, are the first team to make it to three consecutive regional finals without winning at least one of them, according to STATS. Wyoming lost in the round of eight from 1947-49, but that stretch ended two years before the NCAA tournament expanded to more than eight teams.
“I feel more upset for Boynton, (Mike) Rosario and Murphy, who don’t get a chance and have come so close,” Donovan said. “This one, we didn’t play well enough or deserve to win.”
Kenny Boynton and Will Yeguete had 13 points apiece for the Gators, who missed their first seven shots.
Erik Murphy, a senior like Boynton who arrived in Gainesville four years ago with hopes of getting a title of his own, was 0-for-11 shooting and had his first scoreless game since his sophomore season. He did have eight rebounds.
The Gators were able to recover from an early deficit against Florida Gulf Coast for a 62-50 win Friday night on the raised court at Cowboys Stadium.
Against Big Blue, it was another story.
After McGary started the scoring with a layup, Stauskas made a behind-the-back pass to McGary for a slam before making his first 3-pointer less than a half-minute after that.
Burke passed to McGary for a layup before driving for one of his own. McGary’s jumper made it 13-0 only 3:05 into the game.
Stauskas, who was 2 of 12 from 3-point range the first three games of this NCAA tourney, was on target against the Gators.
“He found so many open shots in that corner and knocked them down,” Robinson said. “Half of them, he wasn’t even that open. He created that space.”
The 6-foot-6 guard from Canada put the Wolverines up by 24 points with 4 minutes left in the first half after two consecutive 3s from the left corner in a span of 27 seconds.
Like he did on all of his makes, Stauskas came back down the court with a smile on his face, sharing the moment with the Wolverines fans who made the trip to North Texas.
“I can’t even explain the feeling. I was having so much fun,” said Stauskas, who matched his season high for points, first set four months ago. “I’ve been working and dreaming my whole life about something like this. To finally have it, I have a smile on my face and I’m enjoying the moment.”