for this game

Florida too strong inside for Butler

Mar 24, 2007 - 7:26 AM ST. LOUIS (Ticker) -- Once again, Butler played Florida tough in an NCAA Tournament game, but the Gators were too strong inside.

Al Horford scored 16 points, including a decisive three-point play with 2 1/2 minutes remaining, as top-seeded Florida capped a 65-57 victory over fifth-seeded Butler in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament's Midwest Region.

Capturing their ninth consecutive win in the tournament, the defending champion Gators (32-5) advanced to face third-seeded Oregon in the regional final on Sunday.

Florida's early deficit and inability to shake Butler drew numerous comparisons to the previous matchup in the NCAAs between the two squads, when a last-second shot by Mike Miller lifted the then-No. 5 seed Gators to a 69-68 first-round victory in overtime in 2000.

"I think our team knew coming into this game that it was going to be difficult," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "And certainly there was a clear indication yesterday by all the games, just how close and the margin for error is so small."

Although that 2000 edition went on to reach the national title game, it did not have the championship pedigree that this year's does, with Horford and Joakim Noah stalking the front line.

It was that inside force that extended Florida's quest to become the first repeat champion since Duke in 1992.

Although the Bulldogs (29-7) took a 54-53 edge with 3:33 remaining when Drew Streicher made two free throws, the Gators quickly tied it when Noah was fouled and split a pair from the stripe.

Butler, which was looking to record its first trip to the regional semifinals, missed a golden chance to go back ahead when Brian Ligon missed an open shot in the paint. Florida's Taurean Green may have caused some distress for the forward, swiping at the ball as he rotated over.

In the same way that the Bulldogs took advantage of the Gators' mistakes in the first half, Florida capitalized, as Horford worked Brandon Crone down in the post before being fouled on a turnaround shot.

"I just caught it and I was going to kick it back out and Corey (Brewer) was kind of signaling to me, go score, go score," Horford said. "So I just went ahead and I was just trying to play off what they gave me. They didn't bring the double, so I just went ahead and scored."

"I thought it was probably a no call," Crone said. "But, I mean, it was more my fault. I let him back me all the way down without pulling the chair, without giving him something else to look at. So really it went down to me. And I didn't do anything different. He just took advantage of it."

Crone, Butler's third-leading scorer, fouled out on the play and Horford made the ensuing free throw for a 57-54 advantage with 2:34 left.

After Mike Green missed a pair from the free-throw line, Brewer hit a jumper from the baseline to make it 59-54 with 1:42 to play.

Horford finished 4-of-5 from the field, 8-of-10 from the line and grabbed seven rebounds. He also recorded one of his four blocks on a layup attempt by Julian Betko that would have made it a four-point game with 21 seconds left.

"I think it was just towards the end they made more plays than we did," Butler forward Pete Campbell said. "I feel like we played them as tough as anybody probably will."

Noah added 13 points and nine boards for the Gators, who finished with a 22-14 advantage in points in the paint and a 27-25 edge in rebounding.

Forced to contend with the inside forces of Horford and Noah caused myriad problems for Butler, most importantly foul issues and open looks from outside for the Florida guards.

The Bulldogs had two frontcourt players disqualified en route to finishing with 25 fouls and saw the Gators connect on 8-of-19 (42 percent) of their 3-pointers.

"We couldn't do it without fouling," said Butler coach Todd Lickliter about trying to contain Horford and Noah. "That's what got us. And then if you try to double, you weren't comfortable doubling off of people.

"I said before, I think Horford is a terrific passer. If you double him on the catch, that's a big problem. Because he's unselfish and he finds his teammates. And I really thought that was the difference. (Taurean) Green hit threes when we doubled on the catch."

Taurean Green was the main beneficiary of Butler's decision to double Horford and Noah, finishing 5-of-8 from the arc en route to 17 points.

"Our team did a great job of finding the guards, we passed the ball in the post, (Butler) tried to pack in the post and we did a good job of kicking out and we had open shots," Taurean Green said

Florida's main 3-point threat, Lee Humphrey, missed his first three attempts from the arc before making his final two to end up with six points.

Early on it was the Bulldogs that sizzled from long range, making 5-of-10 3-pointers en route to a 25-16 lead with 8:42 remaining. The 6-7 Campbell hit three 3-pointers during that span, making it difficult for the Gators to match up defensively.

"When you have a team that can shoot like that, shoot threes one through five, it's tough," Noah said. "But we stuck together when things weren't going well, it was definitely a team effort."

The Gators had a hand in their opponent's strong start, committing seven turnovers that Butler turned into 11 points.

Despite the strong start, leading scorer A.J. Graves was held without a point in the opening half as Florida opted to put the 6-9 Brewer - the team's best defender - on him.

With Graves' playmaking limited, the Bulldogs went without a field goal for the final 8:42 of the first half, enabling the Gators to go on a 13-0 run and take a 35-29 advantage at the half.

"I had some shots in the first half but they just didn't go down," Graves said. "You just got to stay confident and the team kept putting confidence in me and I kept trusting them as well and before you know it we're back in it."

Campbell finished with four 3-pointers and 14 points and Graves ended up with 11 despite going 4-of-13 from the field for Butler, which shot 40 percent (20-of-50), including 7-of-19 on 3-pointers.