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The Dagger

Top-seeded Florida gets by Cinderella Dayton and into Final Four

The Dagger

Butler, Louisville and Michigan knocked Florida out of the NCAA tournament the past three years -- one step shy of the Final Four each time -- by a combined total of 11 points.

The Gators entered this season's tournament as the No. 1 overall seed after having not lost since Dec. 2. They found themselves facing this year's Cinderella story in the Dayton Flyers, who had knocked off Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford to earn a chance at the nation's best team and history.

But Florida simply had too much size, strength and poise, overcoming a late-game slump to win 62-52. The Gators are back in the Final Four for the first time since winning back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007.

[Photos: Catch the best action from Dayton vs. Florida]

The Gators surged to a 14-point halftime lead with a 19-3 run late in the first half. They maintained a double-digit lead throughout the bulk of the second half, but Dayton trimmed it to single digits in the final two minutes as the Gators went cold.

Guard Scottie Wilbekin scored 23 points to lead Florida into a national semifinal next weekend aganst the winner of Sunday's Elite Eight game between Connecticut and Michigan State.

Wilbekin was the only Florida player to score in the final nine minutes of the game and even he managed just seven points in that span, with four coming off free throws in the final 65 seconds. Meanwhile, Dyshawn Pierre was the only Dayton player to score in the final 8:25. He provided the Flyers' final 11 points.

Florida's size advantage inside led to dominance on the boards. The Gators outrebounded Dayton 37-26, including 12 offensive rebounds.

[NCAA tournament: Full bracket | Check out Instant Reactions | Buy team gear]

Dayton junior guard Jordan Sibert led his team in scoring this season averaging 12.5 points, but he was held scoreless by the Gators. He finished with one assist and no rebounds.

Despite the sour ending, Dayton's unlikely and magical run to the Elite Eight was one the feel-good stories of this season's tournament. The Flyers started conference play 1-5 in January but came on strong in February and March before running into a Florida team that was determined not to suffer another disappointment.

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