Favor Repaid; Gators Advance To Elite Eight

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota --- Just two weeks ago in the championship game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Joakim Noah bailed out Corey Brewer by tipping in an airball in the final seconds to give the Florida Gators the championship. Friday night, it was Brewer's chance to repay the favor with a three-point play at the wild end of a scramble for a rebound. Not only did he bail out Noah but he kept the Florida Gators alive in the NCAA Tournament.

Thanks to a play Brewer called lucky and a lucky break on the defensive end a few seconds later, the Gators scored a 57-53 win in a slug it out struggle with the Georgetown Hoyas of the Big East Conference at the Metrodome. The win enabled the Gators to set a single season record for wins (30) and move to the Minneapolis Regional championship game against Villanova Sunday (4:05 p.m., CBS TV).

"Sometimes it's all about the luck and nothing else," said Brewer, who saw luck strike twice in the final 30 seconds. He scored the game-winning points with 27.5 seconds remaining and then watched while lying on the floor as Georgetown's Darrell Owens launched what could have been a game-winning three-pointer 18 seconds later. Owens was Brewer's responsibility but Brewer tripped and fell, leaving Owens wide open at the top of the key.

"In my mind I could see the guy hitting the three but luckily it came off," said Brewer. "My heart was in my mouth."

Owens' shot was exactly what Georgetown wanted and he was the shooter of choice for Coach John Thompson III.

"We got the shot we wanted, for who we wanted to get it and the ball didn't go in," said Thompson, whose team finished the season 23-10. "We come down and we got what we wanted, a wide-open shot and it didn't go in. That's the breaks."

When Owens' shot bounced off the backboard, Al Horford corralled the miss and was fouled immediately. He knocked down two free throws with 6.6 seconds left to provide the Gators with their final margin of victory.

Brewer's game-winner wasn't by design but a stroke of luck at the end of a wild scramble for an offensive rebound. Florida was down 53-52 and coming off a time out with 51.8 seconds remaining in the game. The Gators had a play set up to get the ball inside to Noah and it worked to near perfection. Brewer got the ball on the right wing, made a couple of dribbles to his left to the top of the key and then made a nice entry pass on the low blocks to Noah, who had sealed off Georgetown's 7-2 center Roy Hibbert with his hip. Noah went up strong but somehow missed the shot. Horford crashed the boards, tipped it once and then had the ball settle in his hands only to have it knocked loose by Hibbert. Horford punched the ball toward Brewer who took a couple of dribbles into the lane and then made a spin move between two Georgetown defenders. He had a clear path to the goal but Brandon Bowman grabbed his arm. In desperation, Brewer heaved up a prayer that was answered when the ball sneaked its way into the basket.

"Al took the ball off the offensive rebound and it came right to me," said Brewer. "I was driving and I really didn't see the guy behind me. I tried to spin and when I spun I split him, the guy grabbed my arm. I threw it up and it went in."

Bowman was called for the foul and Brewer went to the line to hit the free throw to complete the three-point play the old fashioned way for a 55-53 Florida lead. Georgetown called time out and once the Hoyas got the ball past midcourt with 19.9 seconds remaining, they called time out again. With 13.3 seconds left, Noah was called for a pushing foul but Florida had a foul to give so Georgetown inbounded one more time. The Hoyas ran a curl play with Owens, who got the ball about a foot behind the three-point line at the top of the key. Brewer had stumbled so all he could do is watch the last shot while lying on the floor.

"It really came down to two lucky plays," said Florida Coach Billy Donovan. "Corey threw one up and got fouled and at the end of the game they had a pretty decent look at a three-point shot and Corey Brewer fell down. He just tripped over the guy."

No one was more thankful for the two strokes of good luck than Noah. Noah kept the Gators in the game thanks to a 15-point, 10-rebound effort that included five blocked shots. Perhaps the easiest shot opportunity he had the entire night was the play designed for him at the end of the game, but he simply missed the shot.

"I want to thank Corey Brewer for saving my butt because I missed a wide open layup at the end," said Noah. "He gave me a great pass and I just missed it. I could have really lost the game because the game at this time comes down to a couple of possessions."

The game came down to a couple of possessions because the Hoyas just wouldn't go away in the second half. Florida had leads of six and five points but Georgetown kept battling back, aided by a stretch of 7:01 when Florida could manage only one free throw by Horford.

The Gators had a 41-36 lead on a three-point play by Noah with 13:57 left in the game but Florida's offense, so efficient in the first six minutes of the half, went in the deep freeze. Turnovers and missed shots were to blame, allowing the Hoyas to fight their way back into the lead. Georgetown tied the game on a tip-in by Jeff Green with 10:18 remaining and they took the lead at 44-42 on a short jumper by Bowman with 7:23 to go.

Florida got its first field goal in what seemed like an eternity at the 6:56 mark when Noah hit a high bank shot off the glass to tie the game. Taurean Green hit a couple of free throws on the Gators' next possession to give Florida the lead again but Georgetown's 7-2 center Roy Hibbert hit a most improbable spinning layup to answer and tie the game again.

Taurean Green countered for Florida with a three-pointer from the top of the key with 4:48 left but Owens retaliated with a three to tie it back up at 49-49 with 3:23 left.

After a Florida turnover, Georgetown took the lead on a give and go play, a pass from Hibbert to Bowman for a layup with 2:43 remaining to put Georgetown ahead 51-49.

Florida came down the court and worked the ball inside-out, with Horford pitching the ball back outside to Lee Humphrey. Humphrey, who had missed four straight shots, was radar on this one, hitting a three to put Florida back in front, 52-51 with 2:21 remaining.

Luck came into play on the next possession, only this time the luck was in Georgetown's favor. With the shot clock at four, Ashanti Cook launched a shot from just right of the foul line and it banked in to give Georgetown its final lead of the night at 53-52 with 1:50 left.

Florida got the shot it wanted on its possession but Horford missed a jump hook and Owens rebounded. Georgetown had a chance to extend its lead with 57 seconds to go but Bowman missed a teardrop running layup and Noah grabbed the rebound for the Gators.

The Gators called time out with 51.8 seconds to go to set up the play for Noah. The Gators got the ball to the right wing to Brewer who made a nice entry pass to Noah, who had sealed off Hibbert with his hip but Noah's shot wouldn't go, setting the stage for Brewer to repay the favor he owed Noah from the SEC title game.

"You know, I've been watching college basketball ever since I remember and you always see other guys hit shots to win games and you dream that maybe someday you'll get a chance like that," said Brewer. "Now I got one. It's really crazy that shot went in but I'm glad it did."

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