Thursday, December 14, 2017
Sports

Shelton: This Gator loss isn't much of a surprise

ARLINGTON, Texas

This is their stop. This is where they get off.

For two weekends, they will thrill you. They will run away from teams, and they hold off teams, and sometimes, they will come from behind to beat teams. But when they get to the Elite Eight these days, the clock runs out, and the Gators watch as some other team cuts the net, and then everyone goes home.

And so it ends, once again, for the Florida Gators. Once more, their season has run out one step shy of the Final Four. Once more, their madness ran out on the doorstep.

Check, please.

This time, at least, it was quick. Michigan jumped the Gators quickly, and it worked them over thoroughly in a 79-59 victory. This time, there was no 11-point lead in the second half to squander away as there was in the previous two Elite Eight losses. This time, there was no furious finish or no questionable call or no botched play.

This time, there was a lot of Michigan and not so much of the Gators. Not to bring back ugly memories, but pretty much, this was their Sugar Bowl.

It was 13-0, and it was 20-5, and it was 41-17. The Gators got clobbered. It was the most lopsided region final since Duke beat Temple by 21 in 1999 (until Louisville's 22-point win over Duke soon after UF's loss).

Michigan was on fire, and Florida couldn't get out of its own way. It threw inbounds passes directly to the Wolverines. It fouled on a last-second desperate 3 at the end of the first half. It had stone hands inside when the ball came in.

Then there was Erik Murphy, who had one of the worst days anyone has ever had, missing on all 11 shots he took and going scoreless.

And so it went. It was so one-sided that you wondered if any Florida player could start for the Wolverines. On this day, probably not.

"This is a totally different feel than in the last two," Gators coach Billy Donovan said. "The last two, we gave ourselves every opportunity to win. The Butler game was an overtime game. The Louisville game was a four-point game. This one, we didn't play well enough or deserve to win the game. They played better than us. They performed better. They did the things that were necessary to beat us.

"The other two games, I was heartbroken for our team because we were really, really close. We weren't that close today."

They are a young team, Michi­gan, with three freshmen and a sophomore in the starting lineup. But that sophomore, Trey Burke, makes the Wolverines go. Burke had 15 points himself, but he hit only 1 of 5 3-pointers.

Still, it was Burke who brought the energy, and it was Burke who kept driving the lane and kicking it to Nik Stauskas, who hit 7 of 8 shots, including 6 of 6 3-pointers. Every time Florida threatened to get back into the game, Stauskas would hit another.

"The shooter," Gators guard Kenny Boynton called him.

"I don't know his name."

Over the course of the afternoon, Boynton had enough time to learn. No opponent this season has mistreated the Gators so badly or exposed their flaws more thoroughly.

And so the Gators are finished business. There is nothing much surprising about it, really. This team lacked a great player, a shooter who could stop another team's run with a 3-point shot of his own. Mike Rosario can have some moments here and there, and Murphy, but almost every team the Gators played had a more prolific scorer. Given that, the Elite Eight is about as good as you could expect.

Think of it like this. Every time Michigan had the ball — every time — you expected it to score. It was going to be a shot by Burke or a pass to Mitch McGary or a bomb by Stauskas. And when Florida had the ball, you had no faith whatsoever it was going to get the ball into the basket.

"Those guys made shots," Dono­van said. "And sometimes, at this point in time, you have to hop up and make shots. I can't even imagine how many shots we had around the basket or driving to the basket. We just did not finish shots at all."

Oh, some will see it differently. Donovan has now lost in the Elite Eight for three straight seasons, and after a while, that ceases to sound as if it is enough of an accomplishment. Maybe it wasn't two years ago, when the team lost to Butler, or last year, when the team lost to Louisville.

But when you look at this Florida team and you look at Michigan or Louisville, do you really see equal talent? In a way, you could argue that this Florida team overachieved.

"There is no easy exit out of the tournament," Donovan said. "I wish our team could have played better today. I wish they could walk out of that locker room and say, 'We played our very best game, and we just came up short.' "

In the end, they did not play particularly well or particularly invigorated. They simply got in the way, and on Sunday, they did not do that nearly often enough.

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