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Florida 78, Minnesota 64: Gators get third straight Sweet Sixteen, and a date with Cinderella

Florida made its third straight Sweet Sixteen on Sunday with a pull-away win over Minnesota. Now, the Gators get another Cinderella in Florida Gulf Coast.

Ronald Martinez

Florida held a 21-point lead at halftime over Minnesota, one built by white-hot shooting and very good defense against a team with its own white-hot sniper. Then Minnesota started creeping back, and getting back into the danger zone every Florida fan knows well.

And the Gophers never trailed by fewer than seven points in the second half, and went scoreless for 3:20 and field goal-free for 6:45, and lost, 78-64, to a Florida team that advanced to its third straight Sweet Sixteen.

The Gators came out and shot the lights out in the first half, setting a new school record for points in the first half of an NCAA Tournament game while building a 48-27 lead. But Florida was about as cold in the first five minutes of the second half as it was hot in the first, and allowed a 13-2 run before Mike Rosario (a Florida-high 25 points on the night, fueled by a Florida-high six threes) made the Gators' first basket of the second half with 15:26 to go.

That lead would hover around 10 for much of the next 10 minutes: Florida stretched it to 13, then Minnesota cut it to seven, then Florida got it to 13, then Minnesota made it eight ... and then aridity set in for both sides, with Florida only making four free throws in a field goal drought lasting 6:36, yet still holding a 12-point lead with 4:59 to go when it ended.

In that final 4:59, Florida broke off a 12-5 run to return its lead to 17, made seven of 10 free throws, and shut the door on the Gophers despite Erik Murphy's fifth foul. Murphy helped Rosario torch Minnesota early, but scored all of his 15 points in the first half, then picked up his fourth foul with 12:44 remaining and sat for nearly 10 minutes.

He wasn't the only Florida big in foul trouble: Patric Young (0-for-2 from the field, but 5-for-6 from the line, and seven rebounds) picked up four fouls and Will Yeguete (1-for-1 from the field, 5-for-9 from the line, five boards, two assists, and two steals) ended up with three. But Florida wasn't the only team with foul issues: Andre Hollins, who bombed six threes and scored 25 points, was whistled four times, as was rebounder extraordinaire Trevor Mbakwe (11 points, six boards), as referees called an astounding 27 fouls in the second half to get to 43 whistles in the game. Florida and Minnesota combined to make 41 field goals on the night.

Florida moved on despite all that, and despite getting just seven points on eight shots from Kenny Boynton, the school record holder for threes, and no points from Michael Frazier, still stroking around 46 percent of his triples. 13 turnovers also helped stifle Florida's offense, but 12 points (on just two shots!) and six assists from Scottie Wilbekin and 26 made free throws on 36 attempts sustained it, as the Gators scored 1.32 points per possession, their highest mark in NCAA Tournament play since dropping 1.48 PPP on Jackson State in a 112-69 victory in a No. 1 vs. No. 16 matchup in 2007.

And Florida will move on to see the first No. 15 seed in NCAA Tournament history to make the Sweet Sixteen, as Florida Gulf Coast stormed its way past San Diego State in a round of 32 in Philadelphia. That game, set for Friday, will seem a lot like another game in Florida's recent basketball history, from 2006, when Florida took on George Mason, just the second double-digit seed to make the Final Four.

Florida won that game, 73-58. In George Mason's defense, that was closer than Florida's eventual 73-57 title game victory over UCLA.