Sunday, April 02, 2006

Gator's shot at glory

INDIANAPOLIS - Who's Cinderella now?
The Florida basketball team, unranked before the season began, dispatched upstart George Mason 73-58 at the RCA Dome on Saturday night. On April Fool's Day, Florida advanced to the national championship game. They will face UCLA.

No fooling.
While the Patriots were crowd favorites because of a string of upsets in the regionals, the Florida story is almost as improbable.

Before the game, Billy Donovan told his team in the locker room, "The Cinderella story ends tonight."

Asked if the Gators are a Cinderella story themselves, center Al Horford said, "If you think about it, we kind of are."

George Mason had used a Kryptonite theme in making its run at the Final Four and there were signs referring to Superman's weakness around the dome Saturday.

"It's pea soup now," said backup Chris Richard. "I guess you could say we took the Kryptonite and threw it away."

Florida led by five at the half, then used the hot hand of guard Lee Humphrey at the start of the second half to stretch the lead to 19 at one point. Humphrey scored Florida's first 10 points of the second half.

The Gators much-improved perimeter defense also kept the Patriots from hitting a 3-point shot until 35 minutes had passed. George Mason was 2-of-11 from beyond the arc while Humphrey made six from long range, five of them in the second half.

"As a college basketball player, this is what you want," Humphrey said. "It's been an exciting, exciting week for us."

The win was Florida's 10th straight as the Gators upped their record to 32-6. It is the second time in seven years Florida has played for the national title, both times in Indianapolis. "I'm very, very thankful," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "The NCAA Tournament to me, what's the lottery motto? You've got to be in it to win it."

With the crowd rooting for a comeback, George Mason cut the lead to nine before Florida made six straight free throws, then grabbed three straight offensive rebounds on a game-clinching possession.

"I was shocked we weren't in the game with three or four minutes to go," George Mason coach Jim Larranaga said. "I'm surprised we didn't play well."

Humphrey and Corey Brewer led the Gators with 19 points each. Horford led the Gators with 13 rebounds.

"It hasn't hit me yet," Brewer said. "It hasn't hit me like it's going to hit me."

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