Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 3/24/12
PHOENIX Florida was hoping for some dj vu, circa 2006. Instead, the Gators got the 2011 version -- the version nobody wanted. Just as they did last season against Butler in the Elite Eight, the Gators built a comfortable lead Saturday against Louisville, then went stone cold in the game's home stretch. Florida managed just three points in the final eight minutes and 16 seconds as Louisville rallied from an 11-point, second-half deficit to stun the Gators, 72-68, and advance the Final Four in New Orleans. "It feels terrible," guard Erving Walker said. "We had a lead. We just didn't make shots and we didn't defend well." All of Friday, Florida talked of the lessons learned from last season's crushing defeat to Butler. All week, the Gators talked about playing 40 minutes of basketball. Unlike last year, the effort was there on loose balls and hustle plays. But the weapon that gave Florida its comfortable lead was suddenly and decidedly blunted in the second half when the Gators missed all nine 3-point attempts after hitting eight of 11 in the first half. "We forced them in the second half to play a lot of man-to-man. They played switching man-to-man to take away the three," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I don't know that we did a great job offensively of really taking advantage of what was open. I thought we stood around too much. I thought we over-handled (the ball). "We allowed them to dwindle the lead." Almost everything was working for the Gators in the first half. They shot 66.7 percent from the floor. Every one of their starters shot at least 50 percent and Louisville point guard Peyton Siva was forced to take a seat at the 6:45 mark with his second foul, allowing the Gators to close the half on a 19-12 run. Donovan hoped the Gators would pull Louisville out of its matchup zone to defend the arc. That's exactly what he got in the second half. He also got two more quick fouls on Siva with 10:58 to play (he fouled out with 3:58 to go). Siva had killed the Gators with dribble penetration and eight assists. Without him, the win was in the bag. "For 32 minutes they outplayed us," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said of Donovan's Gators. "He did such a masterful job of coaching me." But the Gators couldn't close the deal, missing their final 10 shots, missing three free throws and committing two costly turnovers in the game's final eight minutes. Freshman guard Bradley Beal grabbed a rebound with 18 seconds left and the Gators trailing by one, but he was whistled for traveling, allowing Louisville to tack on two free throws after a foul, and withstand two looks at game-tying threes from Kenny Boynton and Walker. Florida fans howled for a foul when it appeared Beal was bumped on the rebound, but the freshman wouldn't take the bait. "I just had bad footing," he said. "I traveled. He may have bumped me but whatever. I just need to be stronger and learn my surroundings and be more careful in those situations." The win gave Pitino a 7-0 mark against his former pupil and assistant, Donovan. "If someone said to me 'you have to lose a game. Who would it be to?' I would say him," Donovan said. "I've never said this publicly but I'll say it here. I'm actually shocked he's not in the hall of fame. Shocked. It should have happened a long time ago. "I don't think there's a coach in the country who's done more with less and believe me, I was on a team (Providence) with a lot less." For most of Saturday's game, Florida appeared to have more than enough to handle the Cardinals, but the Gators left Phoenix with sickeningly familiar feeling. "It was a great run. A lot of teams didn't think we could make it this far," said Beal who wouldn't comment on the possibility of leaving for the NBA after one season at Florida. "I'm still affected by this loss. I'm just going to focus on and bond with the team. We just had a real tough loss. I don't even want to think about the future right now."
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