Monday, November 20, 2017
Sports

Florida Gators hold off Marquette to reach Elite Eight matchup against Louisville

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PHOENIX — For the final 11 minutes, Thursday night's game between Florida and Marquette had an eerily similar feel to last season's Elite Eight matchup involving UF against Butler.

Midway through the second half of the West Region semifinal against Marquette, the Gators had a double-digit lead despite not shooting the ball well.

And then, reminiscent of last season, the Golden Eagles slowly, methodically began to make their run. But this time around, UF held on down the stretch.

Florida senior guard Erving Walker hit a long 3-pointer with 2:05 left in the game, junior guard Kenny Boynton went 5-of-6 from the line in the final 1:15, and freshman guard Bradley Beal had a game-high 21 points to help lead No. 7 seed Florida to a 68-58 upset victory over No. 3 Marquette at the US Airways Center.

"I had a lot of confidence in myself, as well as my teammates," Beal said. "I just stayed aggressive and tried to play my best."

Florida (26-10) plays Louisville (29-9) on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. in the West Region final. UF is making its fifth Elite Eight appearance under coach Billy Donovan, who faces his old coach at Providence, Rick Pitino, with whom he has remained close and considers a mentor. Pitino is 6-0 against Donovan, including two wins when Donovan coached Marshall. The two have never squared off in the tournament.

On Thursday, the Gators struggled from 3-point range again. Florida shot 7-of-27 from beyond the arc (25.9 percent). And yet, much like the opening game against Virginia, the Gators were very much in the game. Leading 36-30 at halftime, Florida opened the second half on a 12-4 run to take a 48-34 lead with 13:05 left.

But Marquette made a run.

The Golden Eagles, who force 16.6 turnovers per game, began pressing more during an 8-2 run to pull within 50-42. During that stretch, the Gators had two missed shots and a turnover in three consecutive possessions.

"Marquette is a great team, and we knew they were going to make their run," Walker said. "But when they made their run, our defense stood up.

"Defense definitely won the game for us."

Florida held Marquette to 30.8 percent from the field, 28.6 percent from 3-point range. The Gators entered with a plus-60 scoring margin in its first two NCAA Tournament games, but Donovan warned all week he wasn't expecting anything but a dogfight against Marquette.

And so it was.

Marquette forward Jae Crowder, the Big East player of the year, entered the game on a hot streak — over the past 10 averaging 21.4 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. But Crowder picked up his second foul with 9:31 left in the first half. He had just six points and one rebound in the half, but he finished with 17 points and seven rebounds.

Marquette coach Buzz Williams said having Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom in foul trouble hurt, but he said credit his team's poor shooting to Florida.

"I think they were great," Williams said. "Credit goes to their defensive game plan."

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