Mike Rosario scored 25 points and Florida used an overpowering first half to roll past Minnesota and into the NCAA tournament round of 16 for third consecutive year with a 78-64 win Sunday in the South Regional.
The No. 3 seed Gators (28-7) shot a blistering 65 percent in the first half and led by 21 by halftime. The win earns Florida a return trip to the Lone Star State to play their next game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
Andre Hollins scored 25 points to lead the No. 11-seed Gophers (21-13). Hollins’ 3-point shooting sparked a second-half rally that pulled Minnesota within seven points, but Rosario’s sixth 3-pointer with 3 minutes left pushed the Gators’ lead back to 16 and effectively locked up the win.
The rematch of old coaching rivals Billy Donovan of Florida and Tubby Smith of Minnesota looked for a while like it would be a laugher.
Donovan’s Gators rode into the tournament as one of the best defensive teams in the country and backed that up in their first two games of the tournament. After thrashing Northwestern State, the Gators shoved aside the Gophers of the Big Ten in a 20-minute show of muscle and offensive firepower.
Rosario was 8 of 12 shooting overall and 6 of 9 on 3-pointers.
Defensively, the Gators denied just about everything the Gophers tried in the first half. Florida tied up Gophers shooters at the perimeter, challenged layups and blocked a dunk when Casey Prather stuffed Minnesota’s muscular Trevor Mbakwe in a clear statement that Florida would be as tough as anything the Gophers faced in the Big Ten.
Offensively, it seemed like Florida shooters couldn’t miss. Rosario made four 3-pointers and Erik Murphy delivered a dagger when he buried one from the right corner to put Florida up by 22 with 5 minutes left in half. Minnesota gathered itself for a brief burst when Hollins knocked down consecutive 3-pointers and a steal and layup trimmed Florida’s lead to 39-23.
If the Gophers could have pulled within 10 by halftme, they might have been able to grab a lead at some point in the second. Instead, the Gators scored nine straight points, getting another 3-pointer from Murphy to roll into the locker room leading 48-27 and the “Gator Chomp” was sounding ominous even 1,000 miles away from home.
Minnesota wasn’t ready to roll over just yet.
Hollins, who scored 53 points in two games, made three 3-pointers in an 11-2 run that took some of the swagger out of the Gators. Minnesota kept chipping away and trimmed the Florida lead to 53-46 with 12 minutes left.
But Hollins soon picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench. The Gophers had lost their first shooting option and by the time he returned, the Gators had built the lead back to 12 before a 7-0 run all but closed it out.
Murphy scored 15 for Florida and Scottie Wilbekin scored 12 to go with six assists for the Gators.