ARLINGTON, Texas -- Florida's players were ruthless, Florida's coach was ruthless, Florida's fans were ruthless. Is this where I'm supposed to be offended? Supposed to be sticking up for poor little Florida Gulf Coast University?
Can't do it.
FGCU earned the right to be taken seriously by you, by me, and above all else by the Florida Gators. FGCU earned that by being ruthless in its own right, demolishing Georgetown and then San Diego State, dunking those two schools into oblivion in its first two games of the 2013 NCAA tournament.
So there will be no pity for FGCU today, no outrage on the Eagles' behalf that Florida was bigger, stronger and faster and had the audacity to show it. No complaint that Florida led by 13 with 54 seconds left and left its best players on the floor. No lecture for the Florida fans who taunted the Eagles by noting, as the game was ending at close to 12 a.m. here in the Central Time Zone, "Almost midnight!"
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Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap.
Florida Gulf Coast's Cinderella run ended as Friday night turned into Saturday morning in anticlimactic fashion, with the third-seeded Gators pulling away 62-50, a victory that was a foregone conclusion even before halftime.
The Eagles rode a wave of confidence and emotion to a 15-4 lead six minutes into the game, and it was 24-14 with 5:23 left in the half when the Gators put their foot down and said, with deeds if not words, "Almost midnight!"
Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap.
Freshman guard Michael Frazier, one of the Gators' next big stars, started the rally with a 3-pointer. Then another. Now it was 24-20, and Florida Gulf Coast looked vulnerable for the first time in this tournament.
On the ensuing FGCU possession, Florida guard Mike Rosario stole the ball and the Gators played volleyball on the offensive glass until Casey Prather put it in the basket. Now it was 24-22. Rattled? FGCU? Probably. Eric McKnight had a chance to end the 8-0 Florida run with two free throws, but he missed both. Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin hit a jumper at the other end, and the game was tied.
But really, the game was over.
By halftime, Florida led 30-24 -- and the spurt continued. It was 37-26 early in the second half, a ruthless 23-2 run by a Florida team that had a chip on its shoulder. The Gators didn't like the narrative entering this game, the notion that Florida Gulf Coast had another upset up its sleeve, the idea that fans around the country and even the media at Cowboys Stadium were hoping for such a thing.
The day before, Wilbekin had said, "The media always finds somebody to get behind, but we can't worry about that. We have a game to play."
Florida center Patric Young took it a step further, addressing the discrepancy in attention given to FGCU (massive) and Florida (middling) by noting, "It's pretty much been like that since I got to the University of Florida. We haven't really got credit for anything we've accomplished over these past few years, so I'm used to it."
I'm not saying Patric Young is correct. I'm saying, that's how he felt. He also felt confident, unafraid to point out that the Eagles wouldn't be able to handle the size and strength of Florida.
"I wouldn't question their athleticism," Young said. "I would question their size compared to our size. Their guys can jump just as well as we can jump, but they're not as physically built or have the same amount of strength as us."
He was right, and one day later -- after falling behind 24-14 -- Florida broke the Eagles in half. The rest of the game was a rout, a 48-26 runaway by Florida. The Gators outrebounded FGCU 35-28 and were especially cruel on the offensive glass, grabbing 15 offensive rebounds compared to just six for FGCU.
The Gators harassed FGCU with a series of bigger, longer, quicker defenders and forced 20 turnovers, including nine by FGCU point guard Brett Comer. Florida's Will Yeguete, a 6-foot-7, 240-pound specimen, was especially cruel. Yeguete scored just two points but had two blocks and four steals and, on back-to-back plays midway through the second half, demonstrated the difference in athlete between Florida and Florida Gulf Coast.
First, tiny FGCU guard Bernard Thompson drove the baseline and rose for ... something. Pass? Shot? We'll never know, because Yeguete rose with him and swallowed the ball. Next time down the court, FGCU power forward Chase Fieler tried to back Yeguete down. Didn't work, so Fieler tried a turnaround jumper. Didn't work, either. Yeguete smothered this ball as well, blocking the shot and grabbing it in one motion.
The second half was pointless beyond the need for a final score. And when it was over, FGCU had its lowest point total of the season. The Gators were pitiless, most tellingly with two minutes left and the score 54-45 and the ball out of bounds at midcourt. Rosario was throwing it in, and while he had options, he saw that the FGCU player guarding him -- Christophe Varidel -- turned his back.
Rosario did to Varidel what the Gators did to FGCU all night -- made him pay.
Rosario bounced the ball off Varidel's backside, collected the carom and then took off for the rim. It was 50 feet away, but Rosario got there and finished with a dunk. It was an 11-point game -- which was the margin, give or take, for most of the second half.
Florida coach Billy Donovan never cleared his bench, and nor should he have. The Eagles weren't coming back, but they'd earned the right to be taken seriously up to the final horn. They'd even earned the right to be serenaded by Florida fans who were -- who had to be -- relieved to have survived this date with Dunk City, USA.
It was midnight.
Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap.