NASHVILLE, March 20 -- For the first time since 1988, Villanova is in the NCAA tournament's round of 16, and for the fourth straight year, Florida failed to advance past the second round because it was bounced by a lower-seeded opponent.
Thanks to stingy defense, Coach Jay Wright's unorthodox use of a four-guard lineup and the gutsy effort of reserve forward Jason Fraser, fifth-seeded Villanova beat fourth-seeded Florida, 76-65, at Gaylord Entertainment Center.
Florida's Matt Walsh is near tears after realizing his team's run in the NCAA tournament is coming to a close.
(Wilfredo Lee - AP)
Villanova (24-7) will be a heavy underdog when it faces top-seeded North Carolina in Syracuse, N.Y., on Friday, but that doesn't bother Wright, who is in his fourth season coaching the Wildcats.
"I love playing a team like that because it's such a challenge," Wright said. "I know my guys won't back down."
If all of the Villanova players come to play the way Fraser did Sunday, the Wildcats will give North Carolina a game.
Fraser averaged six points and six rebounds during the season and has battled an assortment of injuries throughout his college career, but came up huge Sunday with 21 points and 15 rebounds in 30 minutes.
Fraser played with a heavy tape job around his right (shooting) hand to protect a broken navicular bone, braces on both knees and a tape job on both ankles, yet turned in his best performance of the season.
Villanova needed it because forward Curtis Sumpter, its second-leading scorer, suffered a knee injury during the first half and did not return. Sumpter's status for the North Carolina game was uncertain Sunday, but Wright said the injury "appeared to be serious."
"If there were one guy I would have said we couldn't win without, it would have been Curtis Sumpter," Wright said.
Sumpter's injury forced Wright to use a lineup consisting of guards Mike Nardi, Allan Ray, Randy Foye and Kyle Lowry, with Fraser and Will Sheridan taking turns in the post.
Despite the small lineup, Villanova outrebounded Florida 44-34 and grabbed 17 offensive rebounds. The Gators shot 38.5 percent and got little out of leading scorer Anthony Roberson, who made 1 of 8 shots and scored five points.
Florida senior forward David Lee, who ends his career having been on the wrong end of four early-round tournament upsets, tried to keep his team alive by scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
Defensively, Florida extended its defense to deal with Villanova's shooters but couldn't stop Lowry, Ray and Foye from penetrating and getting to the basket. Foye scored 18 points while Lowry added 15. Foye and Lowry also took turns hassling Roberson with tight man-to-man defense.
At times, Florida looked as uncomfortable as the two guys who watched the game from the second row wearing Nashville Predators jerseys while holding a sign that read, "We miss hockey."
Roberson couldn't shake free to get open shots, guard Matt Walsh was 4 for 13 from the field and finished with 12 points and the Gators were outscored 40-26 in the paint.
The loss meant that Florida Coach Billy Donovan, who has led his team to seven straight NCAA tournament appearances, had to field questions about suffering an early knockout for the fourth straight year.
"It is not about me; it's about our team," Donovan said. "I would not consider Villanova a lower-seeded team. The Big East the last two years has had the national champion come out of their conference in Syracuse and U-Conn. Five-four seed, I don't know. I do know that Villanova was favored to win the game today."