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(Sunday, March 31st)
Final Score: Michigan 79, Florida 59
Arlington, TX (Sports Network) - A fabulous all-around performance has Michigan in the Final Four for the first time since the days of the Fab Five.
And fittingly, it was a pair of freshmen that led the charge for the Wolverines.
Nik Stauskas delivered a near-perfect shooting display to match a career high with 22 points, while Mitch McGary came through with 11 points and nine rebounds as Michigan put forth a 79-59 drubbing of Florida in the South Regional final.
Stauskas knocked down all six of his 3-point attempts and 7-of-8 field goal tries overall for Michigan (30-7), which netted the game's first 13 points, led by as many as 24 in the first half and never allowed the Gators to seriously challenge the rest of the way en route to reaching the National Semifinal for the first time since 1993, though that trip would be later vacated due to NCAA violations.
"It means the world," guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said of the Wolverines' ending their Final Four drought. "Twenty years has passed and we haven't been on the stage yet."
Trey Burke did his part as well in getting the fourth-seeded Wolverines to Atlanta for a showdown with East Region champion Syracuse next Saturday. The hero of Michigan's overtime comeback victory over Kansas in Friday's Sweet 16 contributed 15 points while pulling down eight rebounds and dishing out seven assists.
The Wolverines were also able to effectively neutralize Mike Rosario and Erik Murphy, Florida's top two scorers on the season. Murphy finished a miserable 0-of-11 from the floor in a scoreless effort, with Rosario managing only nine points and missing all four of his 3-point attempts.
"We battled, we fought, but we hurt ourselves with the way we played," said Gators head coach Billy Donovan. "I just didn't think that we did enough things there on both ends of the floor."
Will Yeguete and Kenny Boynton each scored 13 points for a third-seeded Florida (29-8) squad that was ousted in the Elite 8 for a third consecutive season.
Florida was the team that came into the matchup owning the sterling defensive reputation, but the Wolverines were the ones imposing their will on that end at the game's outset. The Gators started out 0-for-6 from the field and misfired on 11 of their first 13 shot attempts, enabling Michigan to quickly jump out to a sizeable lead it built upon later on.
The Wolverines, on the other hand, made easy basket after easy basket against the befuddled Gators early on. McGary hit four shots from the paint to spark Michigan's 13-0 run, and the margin grew to 23-5 not long afterward when Stauskas buried one of his five first-half 3-pointers with 11:25 remaining in the opening period.
"We felt like we came out against Kansas pretty sluggish, and we felt today the key was to come out and throw the first punch," said Burke.
Michigan kept up the sharp-shooting all throughout the half, with a Hardaway trey igniting an 11-2 burst that Stauskas capped with back-to-back triples from the left corner to stake the Wolverines to a commanding 41-17 advantage four minutes prior to the intermission.
"Nik played one of his best games all season," Burke remarked. "We noticed that he was hot early on in the first half. We tried to continue to find ways to find him when he was open."
Florida responded with an 11-2 push of its own to cut its deficit to 15 entering the final minute of the half, but trailed 47-30 at the break after Stauskas was fouled by Michael Frazier on a 3-point try at the buzzer and sank two of the bonus shots.
That unsuccessful free throw was Stauskas' lone miss over the initial 20 minutes, with the young guard going 6-for-6 from the floor in a 19-point outburst.
Florida did make a bid to get back in it early in the second half, recording six consecutive points and forcing a pair of Michigan turnovers to begin the frame to pull to within 47-36.
The momentum was short-lived, however, thanks to another big shot from Stauskas. His 3-pointer just under four minutes into the session jump-started a 9-2 surge that put the Wolverines on top by a 56-38 count with 14 1/2 minutes to go.
Florida could only manage to pull to within 14 points over the duration of the contest, with Michigan extending the lead to as much as 25 when a triple from reserve Matt Vogrich with 1:10 left to play made the score 79-54.
The Wolverines have now reached the Final Four seven times, though both their 1993 and '92 appearances were revoked due to recruiting infractions ... Florida lost to Louisville in last year's West Regional final and fell to Butler in overtime in the Elite 8 the previous year ... Stauskas also had 22 points in a win at Bradley on Dec. 1 ... Michigan is now 2-0 all-time against Florida in NCAA Tournament play, having dealt the Gators a 108-85 loss in a 1998 second-round matchup in Salt Lake City ... Wolverines forward Jon Horford is the younger brother of Atlanta Hawks standout Al Horford, who won back-to- back national championships with Florida from 2006-07.
03/31 20:11:53 ET
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