AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Look out college basketball, here comes the Sunshine State.
The Miami Hurricanes and Florida Gators rolled through Austin on the first weekend of the NCAA tournament and will join upstart Florida Gulf Coast in the Sweet 16.
Now a state known for breeding some of the best college football players in the country is charging through March behind the perennial-power Gators, the surging Hurricanes and the Eagles, the team that has become the national darlings of the postseason.
“The state of Florida has great basketball teams,” Miami’s standout guard Shane Larkin said. “Florida Gulf Coast was a team we played early in the season and they beat us. But now it’s just show that they’re a great team because they beat us.”
Miami (29-6), the No. 2 seed in the East Region, advanced to the round of 16 in Washington, D.C. with a tough 63-59 win over No. 7 Illinois on Sunday night. Larkin hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with a minute left and Miami gained possession on a ball knocked out of bounds that probably should have gone to Illinois, helping the Hurricanes hold on for the win.
Florida, which won national titles in 2006 and 2007 and lost in the regional final the last two seasons, will come back to Texas after using a big first half and clutch shooting by Mike Rosario to beat Minnesota 78-64.
The Gators, the No. 3 seed in the South, get a matchup with their high-flying statemates No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast on Friday night at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
Rosario scored 25 points a day after coach Billy Donovan called him out in front of his team for a poor performance in the Gators’ first tournament game against Northwestern State.
“The message that coach gave us and gave me personally was, ‘You’ve got to go out there and compete,’” said Rosario, who was 8 of 12 shooting overall and 6 of 9 from 3-point range. “In the second half there, we dug deep.”