Florida dashes Marquette’s tournament hopes

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PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 22: Bradley Beal #23 of the Florida Gators dunks the ball as Erik Murphy #33 celebrates while taking on the Marquette Golden Eagles during the 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball West Regional Semifinal game at US Airways Center on March 22, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) R:MerlinGetty_Photos141739881.jpg

PHOENIX – Everything that worried Marquette coach Buzz Williams about Florida – from three-point shooting to its opportunistic rebounding – proved true Thursday in the NCAA tournament West Regional semifinal.

It resulted in a 68-58 defeat for the No. 3-seeded Golden Eagles, who saw their hopes for a trip to the Final Four end a for second consecutive season in the Sweet 16.

The No. 7-seeded Gators (25-10) advanced to Saturday’s regional final against fourth-seeded Louisville, which upset top seed Michigan State.

“They were outstanding and they beat us straight up from start to finish,” Williams said. “You have to make shots, particularly in this setting. But they were outstanding and credit goes to their defense. We struggled getting into a rhythm the whole game.”

The Gators were led by freshman guard Bradley Beal’s 21 points. Marquette senior Jae Crowder had 15 points and seven rebounds.

“He’s so versatile and can guard multiple guys,” Williams said of Beal, who was 8-for-10 from the field with six rebounds and four assists. “He can catch and shoot. He was really good tonight.”

Crowder was 5-for-15 from the field.

“I tried to bring something else to the table besides shooting,” Crowder said. “It just wasn’t falling.”

Marquette (27-8) trailed by 14 early in the second half, but came back in the closing minutes to get within 61-55 on Crowder’s three -pointer. But the Gators made five of six free throws to seal the deal.

The pace of the game was about running, a style both teams preferred. But cold shooting affected both teams early and led to 43 total rebounds in the first half, 22 for the Gators and 21 for the Golden Eagles. Marquette converted 13 second-chance points, but Florida scored 11 on six Marquette turnovers, and got an additional 11 from its bench.

Florida’s 36-30 halftime lead marked the largest margin of the first 20 minutes. Beal had 10 points and four rebounds for the Gators in the first half while Marquette senior Darius Johnson-Odom had eight.

The Gators’ three-point shooting strength was less a factor as they converted only four of 14 – but that was on pace to equal their 25 attempts on average per game.

Marquette was attempting to make its first Final Four appearance since 2003 under former coach Tom Crean.

“Buzz has done a phenomenal job with Marquette since he took over for Tom Crean,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said before the game. “He’s recruited very well. He has great passion, great energy, great enthusiasm for his kids, the program and his game.”

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