The Marquette Golden Eagles were counting on their senior leaders to get them past the Florida Gators in their Sweet 16 match up in the NCAA West Regional Semifinals. Instead, it was the Gators poise and patience in the half court and ability to pressure Marquette and slow down their transition game that was the difference.
"You have to make shots, particularly on this stage, particularly in a tournament setting," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. "But if you don't make shots, the easiest thing to say is, well, we just missed shots that we typically take. That wasn't what happened. They were really good. They were outstanding. And credit goes to their defensive game plan relative to what we were trying to do offensively."
Florida advances to meet Louisville in the Elite Eight on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix, AZ.
Florida pushed their six-point half time lead to as much as 14 in the second half, but Marquette fought hard and refused to die. They took advantage of Florida's missed shots and ramped up their defensive pressure to force a few turnovers that cut the lead to six with three minutes to go.
Instead of a comeback for the Eagles, Erving Walker nailed a three for Florida to push the game out of reach and secure the win for the Gators.
Florida, the best three-point shooting team in the nation, could have put this game away early had they made a higher percentage of open threes they were able to generate with their ball screens and solid passing. The Gators finished the game just 7-27 (26%) from behind the arc after shooting 38 percent this season.
Even when the shots weren't falling, if they took their time and used up the clock, Florida was able to control the tempo. They got into trouble at times when they got baited into a more hectic pace that favored the smaller Eagles team.
Bradley Beal showed why NBA scouts are so high on him. He was super efficient on offense (21 points, 8-10 shooting and contributed to the win with his defense (2 steals, 2 blocks) and six rebounds. Beal played within the framework of the offense but on a few critical occasions took his man off the dribble and got the rim.
"Whenever you're missing shots from the outside, you should keep attacking the basket. If you're wide open, of course wants you to take them. You have to be more aggressive and keep attacking the basket and start inside and come out outside," Beal said.
Offensively, Marquette's only half court production was forward Davante Gardner off the bench. He was able to get a few solid looks in the paint. Beyond that, the only way the Eagles scored consistently was in transition. They shot just 31 percent for the game.