Sunday , Mar , 26 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Gators battle top-seeded Wildcats for right to head to Final Four

=== Gators battle top-seeded Wildcats for right to head to Final Four ===

(Sports Network) – The field in the 68th annual NCAA Tournament field
continues to shrink, with the Villanova Wildcats and the Florida Gators out
to decide the winner of the Minneapolis Region today from the Metrodome. As
the top seed in the region, the Wildcats have had some unusually tight games
through the first three rounds. The 58-45 win over Monmouth in the first
round was actually closer than the final score indicates, and then the 82-78
decision versus the Arizona Wildcats last Sunday got the squad out of the
Wachovia Center in Philadelphia and over to Minnesota. On Friday night, the
‘Cats looked sluggish at times and could not find the range from the
perimeter, but after making it to overtime the unit had just enough gas to
outlast Boston College, squeezing out the 60-59 thriller. The victory for
Villanova was its 28th of the season, continuing to build on the school’s
single-season record.

As for the Gators, who finished second in the East Division of the SEC this
season, they blitzed both South Alabama (76-50) and Wisconsin-Milwaukee
(82-60) in the first two rounds and then had to hold on for dear life
against an offensive-minded Georgetown squad on Friday night in a 57-53
final. While Villanova has a national championship (1985) to its credit,
Florida has actually been to the title game more recently in 2000, so the
Gators are no strangers to the pressures that come with playing on such a
huge national stage.

Florida, now 30-6 on the campaign, has a record of 20-12 in the
tournament all-time, compared to the Wildcats at 42-26. With respect to the
all-time series between these two schools, Villanova holds a 2-1 edge over
the Gators thanks to a 76-65 win this time last year in the first round
of the NCAA Tournament in Nashville. The first meeting in December of 1993
turned into an 85-77 victory for Florida at The Pavilion. The winner of this
game will take on the winner of the Washington D.C. Regional which will be
either 11th-seeded George Mason or fellow Big East foe UConn on Saturday,
April 1 at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.

Playing against one of the tougher scoring defenses in the nation, and one
that was flying under the radar compared to the other elite programs from the
Big East Conference, the Gators were not fully prepared for how well
Georgetown was going to control the pace of the game on Friday night. After
trailing by a point (53-52) with almost two minutes to play in the second
half, Corey Brewer responded for Florida by converting a three-point play with
just under 28 seconds remaining, giving the Gators the cushion they needed in
order to pick up the four-point win. Brewer, who was a perfect 3-of-3 at the
free-throw line, finished with nine points for the Gators who outscored the
Hoyas at the charity stripe 14-6 on the night.

Having another stellar all-around effort was Joakim Noah who posted a double-
double with 15 points and 10 rebounds, to go along with his game-high five
blocks as well. Taurean Green and Al Horford, the latter sealing the
victory with a pair of late free throws, added 13 and 12 points,
respectively. The Florida defense turned the tables on the Hoyas somewhat,
holding the 23rd-ranked team in the nation to just 5-of-21 shooting beyond
the arc and 38.9 percent from the floor overall in the decision. Aside from
an awkward 49-47 victory over South Carolina during the SEC Tournament, the
57 points for the Gators were the fewest scored this season.

Trying to take advantage of their outside shooting, while also avoiding the
big men in the paint for Boston College, the Wildcats tried as they may to
make something happen from out on the perimeter in the first few minutes of
the first half, but it just wasn’t meant to be. Villanova, which liberally
made substitutions that outnumbered BC’s almost 10-to-1, found itself trailing
9-0 to start and was then behind by 16 points moments later. The squad put
together a 13-1 run late and narrowed the deficit at the break to just four. A
see-saw battle in the second half resulted in the squads heading to overtime
where, with three seconds remaining, the Wildcats in-bounded under their own
basket to a wide-open Will Sheridan who converted the layup (on a goaltending
call) for the eventual game-winner.

Sheridan, who cleared a team-high seven rebounds, had just two baskets on
the night, while Randy Foye was the only player to hit for double figures
for the Wildcats with 29 points. Allan Ray finished with a mere nine points
as he shot a dismal 3-of-15 from the floor and combined with Foye to
knock down a meager 4-of-17 beyond the arc. Villanova as a team made
just 21.1 percent from three-point range and 35 percent from the floor
overall. In addition to forcing 21 turnovers in the outing, the Wildcats
also took advantage of Boston College and its ineffectiveness at the
free-throw line (8-of-17).