ARLINGTON, Texas — Trey Burke and Michigan had the perfect response for anyone who said the Wolverines were too young or not tough enough to make it to the Final Four.
The championship trophy for the South Regional is headed back to Ann Arbor, while another fabulous group of young Wolverines players is going to Atlanta.
Led by Burke and sharp-shooting guard Nik Stauskas — one of three freshmen starters — Michigan controlled Florida from start to finish in a 79-59 victory yesterday
“It means the world — 20 years have passed and we haven’t been on that stage yet,” said Tim Hardaway Jr., the elder statesman in the starting lineup — he’s a junior.
The last time Michigan made it this far was during the Fab Five era of the early 1990s, what until now had been considered the program’s glory years.
It might be time to rethink that.
Once they got ahead yesterday, the Wolverines (30-7) maintained a double-digit lead against the experienced Gators (29-8), the Southeastern Conference regular-season champion who lost in a regional final for the third straight year.
“We’ve almost become numb to it now,” Gators junior center Patric Young said.
Stauskas scored 22 points while making all six of his three-point shots. Burke, the Northland graduate who was named the outstanding player of the regional, scored 15 points, and 6-foot-10 freshman Mitch McGary had 11 points and nine rebounds.
When the game ended, Burke and several of his teammates went to the opposite side of the court toward Michigan fans behind press row with fingers raised. Fans were chanting, “It’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine!”
And great to be young.
“Seeing it all come together, I don’t know what to say,” Wolverines coach John Beilein said. “I’m a little bit speechless.”
Michigan hadn’t reached the Final Four since consecutive championship game appearances in 1992 and 1993, the freshman and sophomore seasons of the Fab Five — Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King.
With four wins in this tournament, the Wolverines already have more NCAA victories than their total from the end of the Fab Five era to this season. They had one win in 1998, and then didn’t even make the field again until 2009.
Burke, a sophomore, said he isn’t surprised to be back in the Final Four again so quickly after arriving in Ann Arbor.
“I said it in the summer — and the coaches kind of got on me saying we can be national championship contenders — but that was coming from my heart,” he said. “I knew once we put the talent with the toughness and execution … this team could be special. We’re coming together at the right time.”
Despite being the only team to make the regional finals in each of the past three seasons, Florida hasn’t been to the Final Four since winning consecutive titles in 2006 and 2007 for coach Billy Donovan.
The Gators were able to recover from an early deficit against Florida Gulf Coast in a 62-50 win on Friday night on the raised stage at Cowboys Stadium. It was another story facing Big Blue.
After McGary started the scoring with a layup, Stauskas made a behind-the-back pass to McGary for a slam before making his first three-pointer less than a half-minute later.
Burke passed to McGary for a layup before driving for one of his own, and McGary’s jumper made it 13-0 only 3:05 into the game.
Stauskas, a 6-foot-6 guard from Canada, put the Wolverines up by 24 points with 4:08 left in the first half with consecutive three-pointers from the left corner in a span of 27 seconds. Michigan led 47-30 at the half.
“We didn’t play well enough or deserve to win,” Donovan said.