In the end, the higher seed prevailed as the three-seeded Florida Gators beat the 11-seeded Gophers in the third round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday night in Austin, Tex.
The Gophers entered half-time down 21 points to the SEC Champions but managed to chip away at the lead and bring it to single digits before collapsing in the final minutes to lose 78-64.
Sophomore Andre Hollins lead Minnesota with 25 points while converting 6-of-10 from beyond the arch, but that wasn’t enough as the rest of the team struggled shooting the ball.
Senior Trevor Mbakwe finished with 11 points on 3-of-7 shooting and Rodney Williams notched 10 points on 3-of-11 from the field, but their inefficiency hurt Minnesota down the stretch, especially against a Florida team that shot 57 percent.
Florida’s Mike Rosario had 25 points for the Gators and made six shots from beyond the arch to keep the Gators at least an arm’s length away from the Gophers and Erik Murphy added 15 more points before be fouled out late in the game.
Nevertheless, the Gators proved they were the better team by playing smarter and more aggressively while capitalizing on Minnesota’s mistakes.
While Florida shot the ball better than Minnesota, it was perhaps the foul game that ended up losing the game for the Gophers.
Four of Minnesota’s starters finished with four fouls, which resulted in 36 free throw opportunities for the Gators. Florida would make 26 of the shots from the charity stripe.
Countless silly fouls committed by Minnesota showed their frustration after getting beat up in the first half and that attitude came back to bite them in the end.
For seniors Julian Welch, Andre Ingram, Mbakwe and Williams, this was their final game as a Gopher.
As for off-season story lines, there could be a change at head coach, but we will wait and see what rookie Athletic Director Norwood Teague decides to do with Tubby Smith.
Teague gave Smith a three-year extension last summer as one of his first acts as AD — the extension stipulates a reevaluation at the end of the first year.
While Smith was able to advance the Gophers past the first round for the first time as Minnesota’s head coach, it’s certainly not close to a guarantee that he will stay on for another year it what may seem as only a baby-step advancement for Minnesota’s basketball program — especially following Minnesota’s 15-1 start to the season.
With the season out of the way, Minnesota basketball will have an opportunity to focus their attention to recruiting for the Class of 2014. With four and five-star prospects in Minnesota’s backyard, whoever the coach may be in a few months will need to focus his attention to signing at least one of the recruits.