Florida wins way to Final Four at Metrodome

Joakim Noah led the Gators with 21 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks.

C.J. Spang

As Joakim Noah’s name was announced before the game, he stood up and simply said to his team, “All out baby.”

The sophomore forward and his third-seeded Florida went all out Sunday in its huge 75-62 win over top-seeded Villanova in their NCAA Tournament game at the Metrodome.

“I am very, very proud of these kids,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “It has been a remarkable run up to this point.”

Leading 15-14 in the early going, the Gators were called for a foul going for a rebound, but had it effectively erased when Wildcats senior guard Allan Ray was called for a technical foul as the teams traded shoves and verbal jabs.

Florida (31-6) hit both free throws, starting a 12-2 run that gave the Gators a 27-16 lead with 10:03 left in the first half.

Despite shooting a dismal 8-of-38 from the floor in the first half, Villanova managed to keep the game close thanks to solid free-throw shooting.

The Wildcats (28-5) were 12-of-13 from the charity stripe in the first frame and a crucial 9-of-10 in the final seven minutes, when they were unable to hit a single shot from the floor.

As the halftime buzzer sounded, Florida held a slim 35-30 lead.

Villanova kept with Florida throughout the first eight minutes of the second half, trailing 45-42 with 11:37 left in the game after Randy Foye nailed a jump shot in the lane.

The Wildcats were then given a gift in the form of back-to-back turnovers by the Gators, but were unable to score either time, and Florida began to pull away from there.

“You only get so many opportunities in a game like this,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We had them and didn’t take advantage of them and they closed us out.”

Villanova’s inability to score points off turnovers proved pivotal in the loss.

In the first half, the Wildcats scored just one point off 10 Florida turnovers, and in the second half, scored only six points off six miscues by the Gators.

But when all was said and done, the play of Florida’s big men – Noah and fellow sophomore Al Horford – was what did in the Wildcats.

Whether it was scoring down low or forcing Villanova’s players to adjust their shots in the lane, the Gators’ post presence proved pivotal.

“They really did a good job of using their length to change shots,” Wright said.

Noah finished with a team-high 21 points – despite being held scoreless for a stretch of nearly 25 minutes – grabbed 15 rebounds and blocked five shots.

But what may have been even more impressive was his free-throw shooting – knocking down 13 of 15 freebies.

Horford scored 12 points, pulled down 15 rebounds and blocked a pair of shots.

With the victory, Florida advances to the Final Four to take on Cinderella story George Mason on April 1 in Indianapolis.

“We are very happy to be in the Final Four right now,” Noah said. “Hopefully we can get a nice little ring in Indianapolis.”