Final 4 2012: Florida Gators' Choke Job Proves They Were Never Really Contenders

Brian MaziqueCorrespondent IIIMarch 25, 2012

PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 24:  Chane Behanan #24 of the Louisville Cardinals and Bradley Beal #23 of the Florida Gators battle for a loose ball in the first half during the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball West Regional Final at US Airways Center on March 24, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

So much for the largest margin of victory of any team, and the nasty defense the Florida Gators played through three NCAA tournament games. The Gators had beaten their opponents by an average of 20 points. They had not allowed a team to shoot 40 percent either.

The team was still on track before the final eight minutes of the game. That is when Billy Donovan's Gators choked the game away.

This is no way an insult to Billy Donovan, or his young team, it's an observation. With a double-digit lead in the second half, Louisville's floor general Peyton Siva, in foul trouble, the Gators couldn't execute.

They had shot the lights out from three in the first half. The Gators connected on 7-of-11 three-point shots through the first 20 minutes, only to go 0-of-9 in the second half.

What was the difference?

One big issue was the man-to-man defense the Cardinals employed. The pressure handled the Gators' attack from the outside and Gorgui Deng took care of the paint. He only blocked one shot, but he challenged and altered everything that came in the lane.

Donovan seemed to realize that his team may be in trouble, even at the half. The Gators could have been up by 15 points at the intermission, considering how lights out they were in the first half.

It turns out, they really needed to make more hay as they collapsed in the final eight minutes.

No one player was responsible for the collapse. Bradley Beal, the Gators' super freshman, looks like he needs to allow himself to be a better sophomore. He was strong in the first half, but blew a huge layup in the clutch.

His biggest mistake was a painful traveling violation after an ill-advised pass by Louisville's Russ Smith in the final minute.

Everyone from Patric Young and Erik Murphy tried and failed to guard Chane Behanan. The Louisville forward looked like the second coming of Corliss Williamson at Arkansas in this one.

He scored 17 points, and no Gator could step up offensively to match, or guard him on the other end. 

Gators fans shouldn't take it too hard.

This is a young team; only Erving Walker is a senior. As I mentioned, Bradley Beal needs at least another year to develop. Hopefully he comes back for his sophomore season. If he does, the Gators will be a team to be reckoned with next season.


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