MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- With Florida minutes away from the Final
Four, Joakim Noah threw his head back, screamed and pounded his
chest as if to announce the Gators' arrival.
Noah and his sophomore teammates dispatched the last No. 1 seed
standing, and are suddenly heading to Indianapolis -- perhaps as the
The young, third-seeded Gators beat a steep learning curve with
a 75-62 win over top-seeded Villanova in the Minneapolis Regional
final Sunday, and are going to the Final Four a lot sooner than
anyone could have thought.
Noah had 21 points, a career-high 15 rebounds, five blocks and
was selected most outstanding player of the regional. Fellow
sophomore Al Horford added 12 points and 15 rebounds.
"When you're young and you don't play in these situations, you
just don't know," Noah said. "I think the more we play in these
situations, the better we're going to become."
Point guard Taurean Green scored 19 points for Florida (31-6),
which will face No. 11 seed George Mason next Saturday in the
national semifinals. No. 2 seed UCLA plays No. 4 seed LSU in the
This marks the first time since the field was expanded to 64
teams in 1985 that no top-seeded team advanced to the Final Four --
and the second time in tournament history.
"We're the Gator boys. The Gator boys are hot right now," Noah
Villanova star Randy Foye fouled out with 28.9 seconds left and
walked slowly to the bench to hug his coaches and teammates, as
tears streamed down his face. He carried the Wildcats (28-5) for
the second time in three days, without any help from fellow senior
"Like Randy said, this is going to hurt for a while," said
Ray, who had 11 points on 5-for-19 shooting.
Foye had 25 points, but Lee Humphrey helped keep him from
getting free behind the 3-point line. Foye missed six of his eight
"We've won games that way. We've shot poorly and then got on
the offensive boards and played defense," Villanova coach Jay
Wright said. "They were just too good."
This was Florida's eighth straight trip to the tournament under
coach Billy Donovan, but so many of his previous teams -- minus the
national runner-up in 2000 -- failed to fulfill their postseason
This tight group of sophomores, led by the fiery, ponytailed
Noah, vowed to change that after bonding during their first few
weeks on campus. Despite a second-round loss in the tournament last
year to Villanova, the Gators are a nation-best 15-1 in March over
the last two years.
"They were unselfish. They wanted to win, wanted to learn. They
wanted to work, and they wanted to get better," Donovan said.
Noah and Horford were too tough for the Wildcats to use much of
the flashy, four-guard attack for which they are known. Foul
trouble made it impossible in the second half, as Foye drew his
third at the 18-minute mark, Kyle Lowry picked up his fourth with
14 minutes left and Ray's third came soon after.
A smooth, sweeping layup across the lane by Ray cut the Gators'
lead to 54-47 with 7½ minutes to go. But after a foul by Will
Sheridan, a timeout, and two more free throws by Noah, it was a
nine-point edge for Florida.
The cap came when Horford, slowly backing down with the ball in
the post, spun and dropped an easy pass on the baseline to a
streaking Noah -- who powered up and threw down a rim-bending dunk
for a 66-54 lead with less than 3½ minutes left.
"I can't say I'm surprised," said Gators reserve forward Chris
Richard. "We've been playing together a while and impressed a lot
of people in the summer. I'm not going to pinch myself. You know,
I'm not cocky, but I knew we had a great team."
Before that, every time the Gators opened up a healthy lead the
Wildcats came right back.
Ray picked up an early technical foul during a brief tiff for
holding the ball in the face of Florida's Walter Hodge, and the
Wildcats lost some energy after that -- falling behind by as many as
A foul by Ray a little later in the half sent him to the bench,
and put Green on the line for three shots. Green made two of them
to give the Gators a 31-21 lead with 5:46 left before halftime.
Despite shooting 21 percent from the field (8-for-38), Villanova
refused to limp into the locker room with a double-digit deficit --
as it did two days before in a third-round win over Boston College.
Florida became a bit careless, started getting frustrated with
the officials and struggled when the Wildcats used their full-court
zone press with Mike Nardi pestering Lee Humphrey at the top.
The Gators had 10 first-half turnovers, failed to make a field
goal in the final 4:39, had given up 16 offensive rebounds -- and
all of a sudden the lead was down to 35-30 at the break.
"That's generally a recipe for disaster, but because we
defended the 3-point line that gave us an opportunity," Donovan
Since their national championship in 1985 as a No. 8 seed, the
Wildcats have been trying to get back to the Final Four. With
seniors Foye and Ray leading the way, this Villanova squad was no
Ranked near the top of the AP poll all season, these Wildcats
were favorites to get to the Final Four.
"Everybody was crushed," Wright said. "I told them to just
cry. Everybody let it out. It's supposed to hurt. I'm so proud of
them. I know it hurts for everybody, but I really want to make sure
this group feels great about itself."