MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—These Florida Gators thrive on balance. Naturally, it didn’t matter which one of their super sophomores got the chance at the game-winning basket.
Corey Brewer made his only second-half field goal count, turning a twisting, falling-down shot into a three-point play with 27.5 seconds left. Brewer’s acrobatics lifted the third-seeded Gators to a 57-53 victory over Georgetown Friday night in the Minneapolis Regional semifinals.
“Sometimes there’s things that are out of your control in these games,” coach Billy Donovan said.
It was the latest step taken by this group of second-year players toward erasing memories of Florida’s recent NCAA tournament failures. The Gators hadn’t been past the second round since 2000, when Mike Miller led them to the championship game.
That team tied a school record for victories, set by the 1993-94 Final Four squad. These Gators have done them both one better in the win column.
“Hopefully we keep winning some ballgames,” said junior Lee Humphrey, the only non-sophomore in the starting lineup.
Florida (30-6) will play top-seeded Villanova on Sunday in the final, with the winner advancing to next weekend’s Final Four in Indianapolis. It’s a rematch of a second-round game from last year, a 76-65 Gators loss.
But this is a different season. Joakim Noah had 15 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in yet another all-around effort. Fellow sophomore Taurean Green scored 13 points, and Al Horford, yep, another sophomore, added 12 points.
“I want to thank Corey Brewer for saving my butt, because I missed a wide-open layup at the end,” Noah said. “Corey’s play—not to say anything against Corey—a lot of luck comes into making a shot like that.”
It was more than just Noah who missed on that wild possession. Brewer was the last one to grab the ball on the right wing, and he threw up an off-balance shot that somehow went in as he fell to the court and got fouled by Bowman.
After whirling around and pumping his fist, Brewer made the free throw, making it 55-53.
“I just threw it up and it went in,” Brewer said, smiling sheepishly.
Seventh-seeded Georgetown (23-10) had a great chance to take the lead, when Brewer got faked out by Darrel Owens at the top of the key. Owens had a wide-open 3-pointer, but it bounced off the back of the rim. Horford was fouled and made two free throws with 6.6 seconds remaining.
“Bad things happen sometimes,” said Owens, a senior who made the rounds in a somber locker room to hug each of his teammates. “I can’t look back. I have to be proud of the year we had.”
Jeff Green led the Hoyas with 15 points, and Ashanti Cook added 12 points— as their team’s quest for a Final Four return fell two wins short.
Coach John Thompson III, his father wearing a headset across the court as part of his broadcasting duties, brought Georgetown to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001.
On the verge of restoring the dominance that the elder Thompson oversaw in the 1980s, the Hoyas came to the Metrodome in search of their first berth in the regional final since 1996. They haven’t been to a Final Four since 1985, when they lost to Villanova for the national championship.
Bowman had 10 points and seven rebounds, as did Roy Hibbert—the fulcrum of the Hoyas’ motion offense that never quite got going. They played the defense they wanted, keeping their opponent under 60 points as usual.
But Florida was just as tough with its backs to the basket, choking the passing lanes, bothering Hibbert and forcing Georgetown to shoot 5-for-21 from 3-point range.
“We’re not satisfied at all,” Hibbert said. “We came here to win. We’re not just satisfied at getting to the Sweet 16 or being in the tournament. We’re here to win.”
Bowman made one of the Hoyas’ patented backdoor cuts, grabbed a pass and laid the ball in to give his team a 51-49 lead. Humphrey’s 3 with 2:20 left put Florida in front, 52-51. Cook banked in a jumper to give the Hoyas the lead back with 1:51 remaining, but that was their last score.
Since losing in the title game to Michigan State in 2000, the Gators had become a tournament underachiever—as talented teams went five straight years without advancing past the first weekend.
But finally, thanks to Noah, Horford and the rest of their young, high-energy teammates, the Gators were decisive winners against South Alabama and dangerous Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the first two rounds and arrived at the regional with plenty of momentum and confidence.
Florida, after trailing by as many as nine in the first half, surged back with its transition game. The Gators went on a 16-5 run during a 4-minute span late in the half, highlighted by a steal and dunk by Brewer to tie it at 26.
Most impressive for Florida was winning with a style that it hasn’t been known for. Unable to run their fast-breaking game, the Gators were patient— and willing to let their defense get them to the next round.
“This wasn’t our style of play,” Horford said, “but we had to adjust and play whichever way we have to play. If that meant grinding it out like that, we got it done.”