The Gators’ two-week expedition in Texas ends this afternoon as No. 3-seeded Florida and No. 4-seeded Michigan collide at Cowboys Stadium with a Final Four trip at stake.
It is the first time these teams have met since 1998.
Florida has been to this point each of the past two years, but it hasn’t been further since winning consecutive national championships under Donovan in 2006 and 2007.
In both of those regional final losses – to Louisville last year and in overtime to Butler in 2011 – the Gators had 11-point second-half leads.
After falling behind 15-4 early against Florida Gulf Coast, the high-flying No. 15 seed everybody knows now after an unprecedented run, the Gators recovered with a 16-0 run late in the first half to go ahead to stay in a 62-50 victory.
Michigan's last regional final was 19 years ago, when Wolverine standout Trey Burke was a 16-month-old toddler.
“It’s definitely crazy,” Burke said Saturday. “Just to get this program moving back in the right direction means a lot to us.”
No. 4 seed Michigan (29-7) plays SEC regular-season champion and No. 3 seed Florida (29-7) for the South Regional title on the raised court at ultramodern Cowboys Stadium on Sunday at 2:20 p.m.
The Wolverines advanced largely because of Burke, the sophomore and Big Ten player of the year who scored 23 points – all after halftime – as they overcame a 14-point deficit against top seed Kansas. They forced overtime when Burke hit a long game-tying 3-pointer with 4.2 seconds left in regulation and won 87-85 in overtime.
“Yeah, I was surprised at how far I was,” Burke admitted after seeing multiple replays of the shot that may just become known as the Fab 3.
Burke also had 10 assists, making him the first player to have 20 points and 10 assists in the NCAA round of 16 since 1987. The last to do it? A Providence player known as “Billy The Kid” – aka Florida coach Billy Donovan, who will be on the opposite bench when his Gators play in their third consecutive regional final.
“It’s funny, my wife says to me this morning, she asked me the same question, she said, ‘Who was the player?’,” said Donovan, admitting that he already knew and remembered his numbers (26 points, 10 assists vs. Alabama). “And I said Magic Johnson. And she said, ‘No, you.’ I said I’m glad I’m comparing myself to Magic Johnson, that’s great.”
Michigan hasn’t been to the Final Four since consecutive national championship game appearances in 1992 and 1993 by the Fab Five – Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King – as freshmen and sophomores.