Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Sports

Louisville Cardinals eliminate Florida Gators from NCAA Tournament

PHOENIX — Outplayed for 32 minutes.

That was how Louisville coach Rick Pitino described his team's performance in Saturday's game against Florida with a trip to the Final Four on the line. But it was those final eight agonizing minutes highlighted by a serious offensive dry spell that will haunt the Gators for some time to come.

Florida was outscored 18-3 in the final 8:16, allowing No. 4 seed Louisville to rally for a 72-68 victory over the No. 7 seed Gators in the NCAA Tournament West Region Final at US Airways Center.

It was the second straight season the Gators held a double-digit lead in the second half of an Elite Eight game but couldn't hold on.

"We felt like the whole game we had control of the game and we were so close, we just let it get away from us," senior guard Erving Walker said. "You know what, it was a one-possession game and we had the lead. We just felt like we had control, we'd get a big stop like we usually do. It just didn't go our way this time."

The Gators scored just eight points in the final 10 minutes of the game.

"I knew at this time in the season against the teams you're playing against, you know teams are going to make a run at you," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "That's going to happen. And they made a great run, and I give them a lot of credit."

After trailing the entire second half, Louisville took its first lead 69-68 on a jumper by freshman forward Chane Behanan with 1:06 remaining. Despite being saddled with four fouls, Behanan scored nine of Louisville's final 18 down the stretch.

Florida freshman Bradley Beal forced Russ Smith into a turnover with 19 seconds remaining and the Gators down by one, but Beal was called for traveling after he stole the pass and attempted to get out of traffic.

"I just had bad footing, said Beal, who had 14 points and seven rebounds. "I traveled. I traveled. But he may have bumped me, but whatever, I still had to be strong with the ball and be more careful in those situations."

Louisville hit 3 of 4 free throws in the final 16.7 to seal the win. Both Beal and junior guard Kenny Boynton had missed 3-pointers in the final 11 seconds, and Walker's 3 with two seconds remaining was short.

Florida led 41-33 at halftime after shooting a phenomenal 72.7 percent (8-of-11) from 3-point range and 66.7 percent (14-of-21) from the field. But credit Cardinals coach Rick Pitino for going to a switching man-to-man defense.

"I went in at halftime and I tore up the 16-page stat sheet and I said, 'Guys, I'm sorry we're not prepared. We don't have much time, but we have to play man. We've got to press them because it's not working,' " Pitino said.

That new strategy stymied the Gators.

Even with Louisville starters Peyton Siva, Behanan and center Gorgui Dieng in foul trouble, the Cardinals kept coming. Louisville forced 14 turnovers that led to 15 points (UF forced six) and its bench outscored Florida's 22-5. The Gators didn't score a single point off turnovers, and they missed all nine of their 3-pointers in the second half.

"I think both teams battled and fought," Donovan said. "It was a hard-fought game."

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]

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Published: 01/17/18