Arlington, TX – The clock struck midnight for Cinderella, but this NCAA Tournament experience is something Florida Gulf Coast University will remember for a long time.
Mike Rosario scored 15 points and the Florida Gators rallied from an 11-point first-half deficit to oust No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast, 62-50, in the South Regional semifinals.
Scottie Wilbekin added 13 points and Casey Prather scored 11 for the third- seeded Gators (29-7), who will meet fourth seed Michigan on Sunday. The Wolverines came back from a 14-point second-half hole to beat top seed Kansas, 87-85, in overtime, in the first game Friday night at Cowboys Stadium.
In only their second year of eligibility for the NCAA Tournament, the Eagles (26-11) played bracket-wrecker following a 78-68 upset of Georgetown in the second round. Then came an 81-71 victory over San Diego State.
The Atlantic Sun Tournament champions, the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16, raced to a 15-4 lead thanks to their quick tempo that led to alley- oop buckets and 3-pointers.
The Gators, though, settled in and used a dominating 23-2 spurt that bridged the first and second halves. When the flurry was over, Florida held a 37-26 lead.
"I thought we did a good job of putting pressure and making those guys feel uncomfortable, trying to get the ball up court and trying to run their sets," Rosario said.
There was plenty of big moments for Dunk City, a moniker used by the Fort Myers team for their penchant for highlight-reel plays. There were some of them Friday night, but eventually the Gators clamped down defensively and made it to the Elite Eight for a third straight year.
Sherwood Brown had 14 points, Chase Fieler scored 12 and Christophe Varidel had 10 for the Eagles, who went 9-of-16 from the field in the first half, but then went only 11-of-28 over the final 20 minutes.
"We made some history and I can't tell you how proud I am of what they've accomplished," FGCU coach Andy Enfield said.
Brett Comer, who had 24 assists against just five turnovers in FGCU's first two games, accounted for nine of the Eagles' 20 turnovers Friday. Comer did have seven assists and three steals against the Gators, but the miscues played into Florida's hands.
A pair of 3-pointers from Fieler and an alley-oop jam from Brown helped the Eagles create a 15-4 lead. Another alley-oop bucket, this one from Eddie Murray off a feed from Fieler, made it 21-11 with about seven minutes left in the half.
Varidel made three free throws with nearly 5 1/2 minutes remaining for a 24-14 margin, but Michael Frazier II sank a 3-pointer from the left corner, a shot that caromed high off the rim and in.
The lucky bounce was the start of a dominant push for the Gators, who used their strength inside to take command of the game.
"We found and manufactured different ways to score," Gators coach Billy Donovan said. "I thought we defended really well."
Frazier hit another 3-pointer from the left corner for a 24-20 margin. Rosario's 3-point bucket from the left corner provided the Gators with their first lead, 27-24, with under two minutes left.
The Eagles were hampered by multiple turnovers late in the half, and Kenny Boynton's 3-point play, after another FGCU miscue, gave the Gators a 30-24 lead.
Brown's layup then represented the final points of the half.
Florida scored the opening seven points of the second half, capped by Rosario's jumper less than 1 1/2 minutes into the period.
"We weren't playing with the same energy, we weren't playing with the same fire that we had before," Fieler said.
It was an uphill battle from there for FGCU, although Fieler's dunk had the Eagles within 50-43 with nearly 3 1/2 minutes left.
Florida widened the gap again to double-digits and the closest the Eagles would get was seven.
"We made history that nobody in the nation thought we'd do," Comer said. "I'm looking forward to our new future."
The Gators last were in the Final Four in 2007, when they won their second straight national championship ... Michigan beat Florida, 108-85, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 1988 ... The teams haven't met since Dec. 27, 1998, a 16-point Florida victory ... Florida has won six straight Sweet 16 games.