Gator News and World Report (3/27/2006)

The Gator News and World Report for Monday, March 27, 2006. They believed what few others could imagine; Gators going back to Indy; Surprise, surprise! Mason heads unlikely cast at NCAA tournament's Final Four; Young Gators not acting their age in NCAA tournament; The Promised Land; Huertas Provides Lift Off Bench; Right time to fill void; After Madness, sadness prevails and more...

Florida Gator Basketball

They believed what few others could imagine
Joakim Noah leaned into the microphone at the blue podium to put an exclamation point on Florida's amazing run to the Final Four.

Gators going back to Indy
In the hours leading up to its Elite Eight game against Villanova, Florida coach Billy Donovan didn't invite any motivational speakers or show any inspirational movies.

Surprise, surprise! Mason heads unlikely cast at NCAA tournament's Final Four
The Final Four has been dominated by college basketball's big boys for more than a quarter of a century, with powerful teams and tournament-tested conferences gathering at the end of the season to sort out the champion.

Young Gators not acting their age in NCAA tournament
Maybe the Florida Gators were too young to know any better. Or maybe they were the wise ones all along.

A look at the Final Four matchups
A look at the Final Four matchups Saturday in Indianapolis in the national semifinals: George Mason vs. Florida

George Mason students turn out in thousands to celebrate
No burning mattresses, no bonfires. Just unrestrained jubilation after George Mason advanced to the Final Four.

oakim Noah, his Final Four hat plopped backward on his head, walked up to John Thompson and wrapped his gangly arms around the legendary coach's shoulders.

Sophomore Joakim Noah, Gators stun No. 1 seed Villanova
They were picked to finish fifth in the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division. One preseason poll had them ranked 75th.

Florida NCAA Tournament history
Norm Sloan 1987 -- beat North Carolina State 82-70; beat Purdue 85-66; lost to Syracuse 87-81. 1988 -- beat St. John's 62-59; lost to Michigan 108-85. 1989 -- lost to Colorado State 68-46.

The Promised Land
As Joakim Noah took the court after a late timeout Sunday night, he turned his right hand sideways like a blade and brought it to his nose. Corey Brewer caught Noah's eyes, then mirrored his teammate.

Huertas Provides Lift Off Bench
Florida F David Huertas would have chased Villanova G Randy Foye for two hours Sunday if that's what the Gators needed to get to the Final Four. After all, Huertas said, his legs were fresh after riding the bench for six games.

Gators advance to Final Four
The cap was turned backward, and his face was childlike, all aglow and alive. Joakim Noah just couldn't stop dancing. There he was -- the face of the Florida Gators -- in the middle of the court, dancing, blowing kisses and singing as he hugged his teammates and embraced the moment.

Right time to fill void
David Huertas went from scrub to stud in the biggest game of his life. After spending much of the season as Florida's last scholarship player off the bench, the freshman swingman was forced into duty in Sunday's Elite Eight matchup against Villanova.

Gators head back to the Final Four
The Florida Gators were supposed to be home by now, another NCAA Tournament in the books. The future looked bright, just no one expected it to arrive so soon.

Don't wake Shyatt, UF staff; they're dreaming
Florida Gators assistant coach Larry Shyatt figured he could wait another year for a Final Four. For a guy with 32 seasons in coaching under his belt, but zero Final Fours, Shyatt knew the drill.

Young Gators reach Final Four
The inexperienced Florida Gators are mysteries no more in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, with the nasty task now before them of kicking Cinderella squarely in the teeth, it's time to call them what they are.

Two by two, Noah leads way
The ponytailed, 6-11 most valuable player of the regional spread his feet, bent his knees, thrust out his hips and started strumming air guitar to a chant from his Florida fans.

Four things I think about . . .
. Despite all the games the past four days that looked like mucked-up Big Ten battles with scores in the 50s, no one noticed or cared that the Big Ten has been home for a week. Even in the absence of Buckeyes buzzer-beater Matt Sylvester, eight of the 12 games at the re gional sites managed to be decided in the final seconds or in overtime.

Gators romp
Joakim Noah climbed the ladder of success with scissors in one hand and a cell phone in the other.

Noah and Florida take claws off Villanova Wildcats
Cecilia Rodhe's phone rang almost as soon as the final horn sounded on Florida's 75-62 victory over Villanova in the regional final on Sunday at the Metrodome. Rodhe, a former Miss Sweden but better known these days as Joakim Noah's mother, had Joakim's father, Yannick, on the line from France. It was 4 a.m. in Paris, but Yannick, the former tennis star, had just watched his son take apart the Wildcats with 21 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks as the Gators chomped their way into the Final Four for the first time since 2000.

Welcome to the Impossible
Any time I look at the brackets at the start of the NCAA Tournament, I always consider the possibility.

Noah's play inside the arc a big key
The game was all but over. Leading 75-62 with just less than 30 seconds remaining in the game, Florida's bench was eyeing the nets and getting the scissors ready

After Madness, sadness prevails
Up to the last two minutes, fans at Kelly's Bar in Bryn Mawr were optimistic that Villanova could turn the game around.

Gators getting familiar with Indianapolis
The past five years have been filled with one NCAA Tournament disappointment after another for the Florida basketball team.

Joakim Noah was dancing on the Metrodome court, and hugging Billy Donovan, and telling him, "Two more, baby. Two more." Then Noah was singing, "I said it's great ... to be ... a Florida Gator" along with fans behind press row.

Florida Has Quite a Racket Going
Standing on a ladder, perched above the Metrodome floor, Joakim Noah clutched a pair of scissors in one hand and a cellphone in the other. On the other end of the line was his famous father, Yannick, the French tennis star of the 1980s who knows a thing or two about winning championships.

Young Gators come of age, get title
All season long Villanova — The Little Basketball Team That Could — glowered defiantly at its taller adversaries, snarled "height, shmeight," and piled up victory and after victory.

Noah rockin' as heartbeat for UF team
Cecilia Rodhe, the former Miss Sweden, is known more these days as being the mother of Joakim Noah -- at least in U.S. sporting circles.

Villanova team caught off-guard
It was the matchup many around the nation were anxious to see: Florida's twin towers inside against Villanova's four shot-happy guards.

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