Florida reaches Sweet 16 for third straight year

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

AUSTIN, Texas -- If Florida's supposed weakness is that it hasn't won close games this season, then the Gators' strength is that they seldom have to play them.
No. 3-seeded Florida rolled into the Sweet 16 with a 78-64 victory over 11th-seeded Minnesota on Sunday evening at the Frank Erwin Center.
Florida entered the tournament with an 0-6 record in games decided by single digits. That record wasn't tested as Florida notched a 32-point victory over Northwestern State and then the 14-point win over the Golden Gophers.
Florida (28-7) raced past Minnesota in the first half, then stiff-armed a Gopher charge in the second half to advance to the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive season. The Gators will face Florida Gulf Coast in the South Region semifinal on Friday at Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
"It's something special to be a part of that," Florida senior forward Erik Murphy said regarding the Gators' third straight Sweet 16 trip. "The program is special. That first Sweet 16 team, those guys showed us what it took. It speaks to coach (Billy Donovan) and what he's done with the program."
Mike Rosario finished with 25 points to lead Florida, and Erik Murphy finished with 15 points after sitting out most of the second half in foul trouble. Scottie Wilbekin had 12 points and six assists.
Rosario played just 15 minutes in the Gators' NCAA Tournament opener and scored eight points. Donovan said he was confident Rosario would bounce back against Minnesota.
"Someone asked how I thought Mike would be and I said he would be fine," Donovan said. "He's got a very short-term memory and he rises to the next challenge pretty quickly."
Minnesota's Andre Hollins led the Gophers with 25 points.
Rosario and Murphy highlighted an efficient first half for the Gators. Rosario hit 4-of-6 3-pointers on his way to 17 first-half points, and Murphy added 15 on 5-of-7 shooting. As a team, Florida shot 65 percent from the field in the first half to take a 48-27 lead to the break.
Rosario connected from 3 on back-to-back possessions to set off a 12-2 run that gave Florida a 22-12 lead midway through the first half.
"We knew Rosario was a talented shooter and he proved it again," Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. "They were moving the ball pretty well. He moves pretty well without the ball and does a good job of spotting up."
Minnesota briefly battled back to get within 10, but then the Gators went off again.
This time Rosario and Murphy hit back-to-back 3s, and Rosario capped a 15-1 run with another trey that put the Gators in front by 22.
"I think our guys came out and played a terrific first half," Donovan said. "(The Gophers) got themselves right back in the game and I give our guys a lot of credit for battling and fighting off that run."
Minnesota went more than six minutes in the first half without a field goal and scored just one point as Hollins hit one of three free-throw attempts after he was fouled shooting a 3-pointer. The Gophers took open shots during the stretch, but still missed nine straight as Florida surged ahead.
The Gators pressed Minnesota for much of the first half and forced nine turnovers in the period. Florida also dominated the boards, outrebounding Minnesota, 16-8, in the first 20 minutes.
Andre Hollins made 3 3-pointers as the Gophers surged back in the second half. Hollins' third trey cut the Florida lead to nine, but Minnesota never got closer than seven points.
Instead, Wilbekin and Rosario hit 3-pointers for a 6-0 run that boosted the Gators' lead back to 13.
Hollins picked up his fourth foul with 6:12 left and went to the bench. Minnesota failed to keep its run going after that.
NOTES: Florida guard Kenny Boynton scored his 2,000th career point in the Gators opening-round win over Northwestern State. ... Florida has advanced to the Sweet 16 and then to the regional final of the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons. Prior to that, Florida had not advanced past the first round since winning the national championship in 2007. ... Minnesota's win over UCLA was Smith's first NCAA Tournament victory as the Gophers coach. ... Minnesota has not advanced to the Sweet 16 since the Gophers reached the Final Four in 1997. Minnesota was stripped of those NCAA Tournament wins due to academic infractions. ... Not counting vacated wins, Minnesota's first-round win was its first NCAA Tournament victory since 1990, when the Gophers defeated Syracuse in the Sweet 16. Minnesota went on to lose to Georgia Tech in the Southeast Regional final that season.

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