Hated to do that to ya, kid.
Rick Pitino nearly came unhinged, and his point guard watched the end of the game from the bench. When it was over, though, it was Pitino and Louisville making plans for the Final Four and his protege, Billy Donovan, and the Florida Gators wondering what the heck happened.
Freshman forward Chane Behanan made the go-ahead basket with 1:06 left Saturday and the fourth-seeded Cardinals finished the game on a 23-8 run for a 72-68 victory over Donovan’s stunned Florida team in the West Regional final.
Russ Smith, who finished with 19 points, followed Behanan’s bucket with a pair of free throws, and then Florida freshman Bradley Beal and teammate Kenny Boynton each missed chances to tie.
Louisville made one more free throw to seal the game and reach its ninth Final Four, the second under Pitino, despite playing the final 3:58 without point guard Peyton Siva, who fouled out.
“They outplayed us, but the last 8 minutes won the game,” Pitino said.
Seventh-seeded Florida, 26-11, went out in the regional final for the second straight year, with Donovan falling to 0-7 lifetime against the man who coached him at Providence, hired him as an assistant at Kentucky and felt as proud as a papa when he watched Donovan win two national titles in 2006 and 2007 as head coach at Florida.
This one, however, was no heartwarmer.
Donovan got under Pitino’s skin early in the second half during a timeout when he worked over the officials, who promptly called a foul against the Cardinals, 30-9, when play resumed.
“He called that,” Pitino shouted. “Why don’t you just give him a whistle?”
Pitino couldn’t get a break for a while after that, and when Siva picked up his fourth foul, the coach stomped onto the court and got hit with a technical. Erving Walker made four straight free throws, and the Gators led by 11.
But the Gators, who went eight for 11 from three-point range in the first half went cold, really cold, not hitting any of nine attempts from beyond the arc in the second half.
Florida missed seven shots over the last 2:30. The Gators didn’t score after Boynton’s layup gave them a 68-66 lead with 2:39 left.
The game's best freshman? That was Behanan, who was far less heralded than Beal coming out of high school, but outplayed him down the stretch.
Behanan scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half, including nine over the last 8:02 and Louisville’s last two field goals – both after Siva had fouled out with nine points and eight assists.
Beal, meanwhile, finished with 14 points and helped control the game for the first 37 minutes.
But over the last 3 minutes, he tried twice to take the ball to the hoop, only to get denied by 6-foot-10 center Gorgui Dieng. Beal missed a desperation three in the waning seconds and also got called for traveling after stealing a wild pass from Smith while Louisville was nursing a one-point lead with 18 seconds left.
“I’m so proud of Billy Donovan, the way he coached this team,” Pitino said. “He was brilliant. He took us out of the zone. But only one team could play aggressive and come back like this.”
Next up for Pitino is a trip to New Orleans for his sixth Final Four. And waiting next Saturday, a possible matchup with his old school, Kentucky, which will have to get by Baylor on Sunday to set up a grudge match to end them all.