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Florida Gators beat Minnesota, move to NCAA Sweet 16

AUSTIN, Texas — Florida's 23-point halftime lead had been whittled to eight with Minnesota threatening to cut it even more when senior forward Erik Murphy made an impassioned plea to his Gator teammates.

Murphy, who spent much of the second half in foul trouble, was on the bench with four fouls and feeling "trapped" by his own situation.

"Murph brought us together, the five that were on the court, and he was like, 'I don't want to lose this game, I can't go home, this is not how I want my season to end,' " junior guard Scottie Wilbekin said. "I guess that really is what motivated us.''

No. 3 seed Florida held on down the stretch to earn a 78-64 victory over No. 11 Minnesota on Sunday night in a third-round NCAA Tournament South Region game.

Florida (28-7) advance to the Sweet 16 to play Florida Gulf Coast University (26-10) on Friday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The Gators will be making their third consecutive Sweet 16 appearance, the first time in school history that feat has been accomplished.

"I give our guys a lot of credit in terms of battling and fighting off that run and making some key plays in key situations," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "We weathered the storm and found a way to move on, and I think that's probably the most important thing right now, going forward."

But to get there, the Gators had to battle their own demons — second-half lapses — along with the Golden Gophers. Florida was up 48-27 at halftime, led by a combined 32 points from Murphy and senior guard Mike Rosario, who finished the game with a team-high 25.

The Gators were outscored 13-2 in the first 4:27 of the second half, and Minnesota cut the lead to seven with 12:35 remaining.

"I knew (Minnesota) would have a lot of pride," Donovan said. "I know (coach) Tubby (Smith), and I knew they would respond."

"We made a run because we went man-to-man, switching defense," said Smith, who is familiar with UF and Donovan from his Kentucky coach days.

That change freed up Gophers guard Andre Hollins, who had 14 of his team-high 25 points in the second half.

"I've got to give him his props, he played a great game," said Wilbekin, who primarily guarded Hollins, and made key offensive plays down the stretch.

Free-throw shooting, which had been Florida's Achilles heel, turned out to be critical. UF was 26-of-36 from the line, and its least-effective shooters —center Patric Young and forward Will Yeguete — were a combined 10-of-15.

"It was huge because whenever they cut the lead down to seven or eight, we would knock down free throws to let them know that we were still pouring the points on,'' Young said. "They can foul us, but the momentum was not totally ever going to shift their way. It was really nice that the guys that normally aren't the greatest free-throw shooters could go and knock some down."

Antonya English can be reached at english@tampabay.com.

Florida Gators beat Minnesota, move to NCAA Sweet 16 03/24/13 [Last modified: Monday, March 25, 2013 12:53am]

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