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NCAA tournament history of the Florida Gators
There are not many college athletics programs that have been more successful than the University of Florida over the past decade. The Florida Gators have won two National Championships each in football and basketball and became the first college to win both in the same season. It may come as a surprise to some that the success of Florida is still pretty new. The Gators were not really a contender in football until Steve Spurrier in the early '90s and the basketball team did not make their first NCCA tournament until 1987.
The Gators made their first three appearances in the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons from 1987 to 1989 but unfortunately for Gators fans each season resulted in an earlier exit than the previous season. In 1987 the six-seeded Gators knocked beat the 11 seed North Carolina State and upset third-seeded Purdue before being ousted by a Syracuse team that would not be denied until Keith Smart's winning shot in the Finals.
The following season Florida would be the six seed and win in the first round again, but this time they were knocked out in the second round by Michigan. In 1989 the Gators would drop to a seven seed and would be upset in the first round by Colorado State.
Florida would not make the NCAA Tournament again for five years but it was well worth the wait. In 1994 the Gators had their best NCAA Tournament yet and went all the way to the Final Four. The Gators, led by Lon Kruger, were a three seed but in the first round they barely got by the 14 seed in a 64 - 62 victory. Florida knocked off Pennsylvania in the second round but when they faced the two-seeded Huskies of Uconn they needed a miracle.
With no time left on the clock and the game tied Donyell Marshall went to the free throw line for two shots. Marshall missed both free throws, the game went into overtime and the Gators won in overtime by a score of 69 - 60. In the round of eight the Gators would defeat Boston College but in the National Semifinals Duke was too much for Florida and the Gators were finally knocked off 70 - 65.
The following season the Gators would return to the NCAA Tournament as the ten seed but would lose in the first round to Iowa State. Lon Kruger then left Florida to coach at Illinois and he was replaced by a young coach named Billy Donovan.
Billy Donovan would then lead the Florida Gators to easily the best run of their history. The Florida Gators would make the NCAA Tournament every season from 1999 to 2007, although those appearances had some mixed results.
Everybody knows about Gonzaga now but in 1999 nobody had really heard of them. The Gonzaga-as-Cinderella fad first began when the Bulldogs knocked off the Florida Gators in the Sweet Sixteen. The Gators had previously beaten the 11 seed and the 14 seed and Sweet Sixteen meeting with the 10 seed looked like Florida was getting an easy path but Gonzaga had other plans.
Florida would make up for it the following season by reaching the Final Four once again. Just like in 1994 the Gators faced a scare in the first round when they needed a game winning shot by Mike Miller to avoid an upset at the hands of Butler. Unlike 1994 the Gators were able to beat Duke this time around and the Gators went all the way to the Championship game. Unfortunately Michigan State was clearly too much for the young Gators and the Spartans went on to win the National Championship.
The next five years were rough for the Florida Gators and they deservedly gained a reputation of being overrated and choking in the NCAA Tournament. Their losses to Michigan State and Villanova—-both in the second round— were not so bad but the Gators also suffered losses to Temple, Creighton and Manhattan.
After the 2005 season it seemed the Florida Gators streak of NCAA Tournament appearances could end. The Gators lost about eighty percent of their offense when David Lee graduated and Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson hastily left college early. The Gators surprised everybody when a group of sophomores by the name of Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer and Taurean Green led the team to a 27 - 6 record and three seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The nation was even more surprised when the new Florida Gators were more poised in the postseason than the previous team. Florida steamrolled through the NCAA Tournament unlike any team in recent memory and won first National Championship. The only win of the tournament that was by less that double-digits was a 57 - 53 victory over Georgetown in the Sweet Sixteen. By the end of the tournament the Gators had won their six games by a margin of 82 points.
The four sophomores shocked college basketball again when they all decided to return for their junior season. The Gators weren't a surprise this time. Every team in the nation had their bullseye on the Gators. Despite the pressure the Gators went 29 - 5 and earned the first number one seed in their history.
Other than a 43-point win over Jackson State in the first round the games were much closer than the previous tournament but the Gators found a way to win every game again. The Gators knocked off Purdue 74 - 67 in the second round, avoided a tricky Butler team by a score of 65 - 57 in the Sweet Sixteen and defeated Oregon in the regional final by a score of 85 - 77.
The National Semifinal pitted Florida against the same UCLA team they had beaten in the Finals the previous season. The Bruins were looking for revenge but didn't quite have enough. The Finals featured a premiere match up as Al Hoford, Joakim Noah and company faced Greg Oden in the finals but Oden and Michael Conley Jr. were not enough on their own to defeat a well-balanced Gators team.
After winning back-to-back National Championships Horford, Noah, Brewer and Green decided to leave for the NBA and this time the Gators could not recover. Florida missed the NCAA Tournament in the 2008 and 2009 seasons. The Gators made it back to the NCAA Tournament in 2010 but in the first round they lost to a BYU team that was led by 37 points from a then unknown player named Jimmer Fredette.
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