Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
Freshman guard Nik Stauskas scored 22 points including six 3-pointers, and Michigan is going to the Final Four for the first time since the Fab Five era after a 79-59 rout of Florida in the South Regional final on Sunday.
The Wolverines (30-7) scored the game’s first 13 points and maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the game against the SEC regular-season champion Gators (29-8), who lost in a regional final for the third consecutive year.
Stauskas hit all six of his 3-point attempts, including consecutive makes from the left corner for to give Michigan a 41-17 lead.
Sophomore Trey Burke, the Big Ten Player of the Year, added 15 points for Michigan. Mitch McGary, another freshman, had 11 points and nine rebounds. He scored eight in the opening 13-0 run.
Kenny Boynton and Will Yeguette had 13 points each for Florida.
The Wolverines, with a steady rotation of six freshen and a sophomore, are headed to Atlanta to play Syracuse (30-9) in a national semifinal game Saturday.
Michigan hadn’t been to the Final Four 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.
Webber was gone before that team’s 1994 regional final loss to Arkansas played in the now-demolished Reunion Arena in Dallas, and Howard followed him to the NBA after that.
With four wins in this NCAA Tournament, the Wolverines already have more tournament victories than their total from the end of the Fab Five era to this season. They had one win in 1998, then didn’t even make the field again until 2009.
Despite being the only team to make regional finals each of the last three seasons, the Gators haven’t been to the Final Four since winning consecutive national titles in 2006 and 2007.
Boynton and Erik Murphy, 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 SEC regular-season championships but came up short in the biggest games.
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.
The Gators were able to recover from an early deficit against Florida Gulf Coast for a 62-50 win Friday night on the raised stage at Cowboys Stadium.
Facing Big Blue, it was another story.
Stauskas, who was 2-of-12 from 3-point range the first three games of this NCAA Tournament, couldn’t miss against the Gators.
The 6-6 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.
Louisville 85, Duke 63
INDIANAPOLIS – 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 consecutive trip to the Final Four.
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.
Michael Conroy/Associated Press