Michigan clubs Florida, advances to first Final Four since 1993

Michigan boasts the best point guard in the country and NBA bloodlines coursing through its roster.

But instead of playing like entitled superstars-in-the-making, the Wolverines, under old-school Coach John Beilein, parlayed their selfless brand of basketball into a Final Four berth on Sunday with a 79-59 throttling of the favored Florida Gators.

It marks Michigan’s first Final Four since 1993, when its brash Fab Five stormed their way to a second consecutive NCAA championship game.

This season’s Wolverines never trailed in the South Region final. They bolted to a 24-point lead with just more than four minutes remaining in the first half. Ahead 41-17 at the time, Michigan, in less than 16 minutes, topped the total number of points Marquette managed it its region final against Syracuse on Saturday.

Despite the hefty lead, Michigan’s intensity never waned. The Wolverines finished the game as they started — the more active, aggressive team by far, stripping the ball 13 times and tallying 21 fast-break points to Florida’s four.

“We just want to make sure we do a great job of coming out and playing very, very hard — every possession, every minute you’re out there,” said Tim Hardaway Jr., one of three sons of NBA players on the team. “It’s a young team, but everybody buys into Coach Beilein’s system.”

Michigan’s reward is a Final Four meeting with Syracuse and its smothering zone defense Saturday in Atlanta.

Florida (29-8), meanwhile, was halted in the tournament’s round of eight for a third consecutive year, unable to stem Michigan’s offensive onslaught and the lights-out shooting of freshman Nik Stauskas, who drilled five of six three-pointers in the first 16 minutes.

The Gators also struggled to score. Erik Murphy, the 6-foot-10 offensive threat, was held without a point on 0-of-11 shooting.

On some of his shots, Stauskas (22 points) benefited from Florida’s doubling up on Michigan’s do-it-all point guard Trey Burke, who was named the South Region’s most outstanding player. But on others, Stauskas was just too good for his defender, turning the left corner of the court into his personal playground.

Burke added 15 points while dishing out seven assists and grabbing eight rebounds.

Michigan (30-7) jumped to a 13-0 lead by getting the ball inside to its young big man, 6-10 forward Mitch McGary.

Florida, meanwhile, missed its first six attempts. Not only was the Gators’ offense shooting blanks (they hit just two of their first 16 shots), their presumptively lock-down defense proved a scant deterrent to the Wolverines, who led 20-4 on a tip-in by Jon Horford.

Florida trailed by 18 less than nine minutes in, but Coach Billy Donovan let his team play on, calling just one timeout early in the proceedings. It wasn’t that Florida was taking low-percentage shots; the Gators missed a stunning number from point-blank range, while Michigan hit from far and near.

Stauskas couldn’t miss, hitting his fourth and fifth three-pointers on back-to-back Michigan possessions to make it 41-17.

The Gators closed the period on a 13-6 run, but there was little for their fans to cheer. Florida’s ballyhooed defense, which had held opponents to less than 54 points per game this season (third-best in the nation), surrendered 47 in the first half and went to the locker room trailing by 17.

Michigan shot just over 51 percent in the first half and, despite its smaller lineup, out-rebounded Florida 21-14 in the period.

The Gators came out at a frantic pace to score the first six points of the second half and pull within 11. But Stauskas halted the rally with his sixth basket from beyond the arc with 16 minutes 3 seconds to play.

It was a tough shooting afternoon for Hardaway (nine points on 3-of-13 shooting). But with Stauskas, Burke and McGary all in double-figures, Hardaway’s defensive contribution was equally valuable.

A lay-in by Horford restored Michigan’s 20-point lead with 10:01 remaining. From there, Florida never got closer than 16, placing just two players in double figures (Kenny Boyton and reserve Will Yeguete, who scored 13 apiece) .

“I think our guys were really excited to play; they wanted to play well,” Donovan said afterward. “Sometimes you can want something too bad, maybe.”

Liz Clarke currently covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. She has also covered seven Olympic Games, two World Cups and written extensively about college sports, tennis and auto racing.

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