NCAA March Madness: Florida Gators' Hearts Broken at the Elite Eight

Jim FolsomContributorMarch 27, 2011

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 26:  Vernon Macklin #32 of the Florida Gators reacts in the lockerroom after their 71 to 74 loss ot the Butler Bulldogs during the Southeast regional final of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at New Orleans Arena on March 26, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Someday, the Florida Gators and their fans will look back on the 2010-11 basketball season and smile.

Today is not that day.

Florida let a Final Four appearance slip through its fingers against Butler on Saturday. They had the Bulldogs on the ropes, but they could not finish them off. For 30 minutes Florida played championship basketball. They didn't, however, for the last 15.

After a maddening finish to regulation against BYU in the Sweet 16, where the Gators failed to get a decent look with the last possession only to win it in overtime, Florida seemed to not have learned a thing going into Saturday's game.

Again, the Gators had the ball with one last possession in a tied game. Again, they looked as if they had no idea what to do with it. This time they could not depend on overtime going their way.

For most of the game, Florida had huge success getting the ball into its big men, Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus. But at the end of the game, they stopped going inside and started jacking up three-point shots.


Those shots just would not go this day. And Florida watched helplessly as a nice 11-point cushion evaporated with nine minutes to go. Nine minutes to the promised land. Nine minutes to reach basketball immortality. After four years of bubble-watching and NIT bids, these seniors were right there, only to watch it crumble down the stretch.

This will be a loss that will sting for a while in the Gator Nation.

But this is not to take away from what has been a fantastic season. These Gators were never long on talent. You will not likely hear any of their names being called during the NBA draft.

There is no Al Horford among them. There is no Joakim Noah. Just a lot of good players who left it all on the court every night.

At the start of the season, I stated that 10 wins in the SEC and a Sweet 16 appearance would be a fantastic year for this team. Let's be honest—this team had Sweet 16-type talent. And that's being generous.

But this team had Final Four heart. This team had Final Four moxie. At times, this team had Final Four luck.

But that luck ran out nine minutes shy.

Butler caught every lucky bounce. Twice Tyus blocked three-point shots only to have the ball fall into the hands of a Butler player. Twice Butler converted.

The Bulldogs also had a three-point shot hit the rim, bounce off the backboard and fall in. They also had a free throw in overtime hit the back of the rim, bounce 10 feet in the air and fall in.

They even had Tyus accidentally tip in one of their missed free throws for two points.

There was a tie-up on a rebound with 13 seconds left in overtime in a one-point game. Guess which way the arrow pointed.

Sometimes the ball just doesn't bounce your way. Today was one of those days.

But this Gator team accomplished a lot in this memorable season. Florida basketball is now back at the top of the heap. The future looks bright in Gainesville and these guys deserve a ton of credit for that.

So thank you Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin. Good luck in the future. You will be missed.