ARLINGTON, Texas —
Erik Murphy never took his eyes off the floor in the locker room, his droopy shoulders weighed down by three straight losses just one step shy of the Final Four.
This one might have been the worst.
Florida’s senior scoring leader missed 11 shots in his first scoreless game since his sophomore year, and Michigan — led by Big Ten player of the year Trey Burke and sharp-shooting freshman guard Nik Stauskas — scored the game’s first 13 points in a 79-59 rout in the South Regional final Sunday.
“Just missed shots,” Murphy said, barely loud enough to be heard, and answering in short spurts. “Our defense was bad.”
The third-seeded Gators (29-8) overcame a slow start in a 62-50 regional semifinal victory against Florida Gulf Coast.
No such luck against Big Blue.
Michigan ran out to a 23-5 lead 9 minutes in and led 41-17 after one of six 3-pointers from Stauskas, who was perfect from long range and led the Wolverines with 22 points.
Despite being the only team to make it to a regional final in each of the last three seasons, the Gators haven’t been to the Final Four since winning consecutive national championships in 2006 and 2007.
Murphy and Kenny Boynton, the four-year seniors who came in not long after those titles, will leave without one of their own. They were part of the only Gators class to win consecutive outright regular-season Southeastern Conference championships, but they weren’t able to win the biggest games.
Boynton and Will Yeguete had 13 points apiece for Florida, which shot 41 percent and let Michigan (30-7) go 10 of 19 from 3-point range.
“We’ve almost become numb to it now,” junior center Patric Young said. “Been here before. I just really wish we were out there cutting the nets down.”
The only fight from the Gators came at the start of the second half, when they scored six straight points to get within 11. Florida had two chances to get the deficit to single digits, but Mike Rosario had a turnover and Murphy missed from point-blank range. He grabbed the rebound, but then Rosario missed a jumper.
The Gators were down 12 moments later when Michigan’s Mitch McGary drove for a tough layup and Spike Albrecht stole the inbounds pass for another layup and a 54-38 lead.
“That is Spike,” said Burke, a sophomore and the South Region’s most outstanding player. “He sees certain things out on the court that a lot of players usually don’t see.”
Even with the brief rally, the story for the Gators was the early deficit.
After McGary started the scoring with a layup, Stauskas made a behind-the-back pass to McGary for a slam before making his first 3-pointer less than a half-minute after that.
Burke passed to McGary for a layup before driving for one of his own. McGary’s jumper made it 13-0 only 3:05 into the game.
Stauskas, who was 2 of 12 from 3-point range the first three games of this NCAA tourney, was on target against the Gators.
The 6-foot-6 guard from Canada put the Wolverines up by 24 points with 4:08 left in the first half after two consecutive 3s from the left corner in a span of 27 seconds.
Like he did on all of his makes, Stauskas came back down the court with a smile on his face, sharing the moment with the Wolverines fans who made the trip to North Texas.
Florida missed its first seven shots before Yeguete made a layup more than 3 1/2 minutes into the game.
“You can’t stay in games like that when you’re making dumb plays on offense in some instances and not making shots and they’re playing unbelievable and knocking down shots and getting open shots,” said Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin, who was just 1 of 6 with team highs of seven assists, four turnovers and four steals. “It was just a bad setup.”
Michigan reached the Final Four for the first time since consecutive national championship game appearances in 1992 and 1993, the freshman and sophomore seasons of the Fab Five — Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King.
“A lot of guys said we were really young and that we couldn’t get here,” said Burke, who had 15 points, seven assists and three steals. “We’re here now and we still have unfinished business.”
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — With tears in their eyes and Kevin Ware in their hearts, there was no way Louisville was losing this game.
Russ Smith scored 23, Gorgui Dieng had 14 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks, and top-seeded Louisville put aside the shock from Ware’s gruesome leg injury to earn a second straight trip to the Final Four with an 85-63 victory over Duke on Sunday afternoon.
As the final seconds ticked down, Chane Behanan put Ware’s jersey on and stood at the end of the Louisville bench, screaming. Cardinals fans chanted “Kevin Ware! Kevin Ware!”
“We won this for him,” coach Rick Pitino said. “We were all choked up with emotion for him. We’ll get him back to normal. We’ve got great doctors, great trainers. We talked about it every timeout, ‘Get Kevin home.”’
This was the first time Pitino and Mike Krzyzewski had met in the regional finals since that 1992 classic that ended with Christian Laettner’s improbable buzzer-beater, a game now considered one of the best in NCAA tournament history.
This game will be remembered, too, but for a very different — and much more somber — reason.
With 6:33 left in the first half, Ware, a sophomore who has played a key role in Louisville’s 14-game winning streak, jumped to try and block Tyler Thornton’s 3-point shot. When he landed, his right leg snapped midway between his ankle and knee, the bone skewing almost at a right angle. Ware dropped to the floor right in front of the Louisville bench and, almost in unison, his teammates turned away in horror. Thornton grimaced, putting his hand to his mouth as he turned around.
Louisville forward Wayne Blackshear fell to the floor and Behanan looked as if he was going to be sick on the court, kneeling on his hands and feet. Luke Hancock patted Ware’s chest as doctors worked on the sophomore and Smith walked away, pulling his jersey over his eyes.
Pitino had tears in his eyes as he tried to console his players. Dieng draped an arm around the shoulders of Smith, who repeatedly wiped at his eyes and shook his head. The Cardinals gathered at halfcourt to try and regroup before Pitino called them over to the sideline, saying Ware wanted to talk to them before he left.
News of the injury dominated social media. Joe Theismann whose NFL career ended with a horrific broken leg, said on Twitter, “Watching Duke/ Louisville my heart goes out to Kevin Ware.”
Fans chanted “Kevin! Kevin” as Ware was loaded onto the stretcher, and Pitino wiped away tears again as Ware was wheeled off the court.
The Cardinals struggled to put the horrific injury behind them, missing four of their next five shots along with two free throws after play resumed. They regrouped after a timeout, with Smith’s finger roll sparking a 12-6 run to finish the half that gave them a 35-32 lead.
Smith picked up where he left off at the start of the second half, making all three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt to give Louisville a 38-32 lead, its largest of the game to that point.
But just as he did against Michigan State, Duke star Seth Curry got hot after halftime, making two 3s in the first three minutes. Mason Plumlee dunked to tie the game at 42.
That, however, was all Louisville needed. Clawing for every rebound, diving on the floor for loose balls and cranking the intensity up even higher on their ferocious defense, the Cardinals were not going to lose.
And everyone, Duke included, knew it.
Smith made a layup, Siva made a nice jumper at the top of the key and then followed with a layup. Just like that, the Cardinals were off on a 20-4 run that sealed the victory.