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Last updated: March 30. 2013 1:10AM - 2590 Views

Florida's Mike Rosario (3) reacts after beating Florida Gulf Coast 62-50 after a regional semifinal game in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Florida's Mike Rosario (3) reacts after beating Florida Gulf Coast 62-50 after a regional semifinal game in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 30, 2013, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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ARLINGTON, Texas (MCT) — It was a high-stakes matchup of polar opposites — a national power versus Cinderella; a two-time national champion versus a first-time NCAA Tournament team — that only March Madness could deliver.
But for much Friday's much-anticipated Sweet 16 matchup the Florida Gators and Florida Gulf Coast Eagles looked to be equals on a night where neither team could pull completely away.
Using suffocating defense, clutch free throws by point guard Scottie Wilbekin and strong play off the bench by Casey Prather and Will Yeguete, the Gators held on for a 62-50 win Friday night at Cowboys Stadium.
The victory sent No. 3 seed Florida to the Elite Eight and ended the No. 15 Eagles exhilarating run that captivated fans and media coast to coast.
FGCU (26-11) entered the game the weakest highest seed to advance to the Sweet 16 after the Eagles easily handled No. 2 seed Georgetown and No. 7 seed San Diego State on their way to Friday night's matchup.
The Fort Myers-based school's magic continued from the opening tip against Florida.
The Gators entered the game 13-point favorites, yet trailed by 11 points less than 10 minutes into the game.
But with NBA All-Star and two-time national champion Joakim Noah on hand to cheer on his alma mater, the Gators would rally and move into Elite Eight for the third straight season.
Looking to join the 2006 and 2007 national championship teams led by Noah, Al Horford and the so-called '04s, the Gators (29-7) will face No. 4 seed Michigan at 2:20 p.m. Sunday.
Behind point guard Trey Burke, the Wolverines (30-7) erased a 10-point lead in the last three minutes to upset the Big 12 champion Kansas 87-85 in overtime. Burke hit a 3-pointer in the force the extra period and became the first player with 20 points and 10 assists in a Sweet 16 game since Gators coach Billy Donovan in 1987 for Providence College.
Florida will need a much faster start against Burke and the Wolverines.
The Gators were sluggish from the outset Friday night, while the Eagles played free and easy.
A long 3-pointer by forward Chase Fieler and an alley-oop dunk from Orlando native and Olympia grad Sherwood Brown gave the Eagles a quick 9-4 lead. Following a media timeout, it got only worse for Florida.
Guard Bernard Thompson and Fieler hit 3-pointers to push the Eagles lead to 15-4 and a Donovan timeout to quell their 11-0 run.
The Gators returned to the floor with Prather and Yeguete in the lineup. They proceeded to change the tone of the game with their defense and aggressiveness around the basket.
Prather would finish with 11 points and four rebounds, while Yeguete had four steals, four rebounds and two blocked shots.
A dunk in transition by Prather of Yeguete rebound ended a stretch of six straight misses by the Gators. Prather then would hit three of four free throws, the final two after an offensive rebound, to cut the lead to 19-11.
Three quick 3-pointers, the last two by freshman Michael Frazier, cut Florida Gulf Coast's lead — at one time 11 points — to 24-20. Florida finally took the lead, at 27-24, on a 3-pointer with 1:41 remaining in the first half.
Florida would lead 30-26 at the half and stretch the advantage to 44-32 in the second half.
Most possessions would a struggle after the Eagles opened the game 5 of 6 from the field. FGCU was able to trim the lead to seven points twice, but each time Wilbekin hits both ends of one-and-one situations, the second time to give Florida a 54-45 lead with fewer less than three minutes to go.

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