State Colleges

Mike Rosario’s hot hand leads Florida past Minnesota, into Sweet 16 once again

Mike Rosario was in Billy Donovan’s doghouse Friday, relegated to the bench when he “missed an assignment” on the court and didn’t do his job.

On Sunday, after receiving a stern lecture from Florida’s coach, Rosario became one of the big reasons why the Gators are returning to the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive year.

The annoyingly unpredictable senior buried six three-pointers on his way to a season-high 25-point performance as the third-seeded Gators put away No. 11 Minnesota, 78-64, and moved on in the NCAA tournament.

They play Florida Gulf Coast in Dallas on Friday in a Sunshine State battle between the old guard and the new kid on the block.

“I give him a lot of credit for bouncing back and coming focused and ready to play today,” Donovan said of Rosario. “He was huge for us with the way he shot the ball.”

Rosario spent much of Friday’s blowout victory over Northwestern State on the bench when he failed to block out on a rebound.

As a result, Donovan sat him on the bench for much of the second half. Rosario’s 15 total playing minutes were his fewest of the season.

On Saturday, Donovan called out Rosario in front of his teammates.

On Sunday, Rosario was a different player.

“I told myself I can’t let my guys down because I was beating myself up about the first game,” Rosario said. “Coach told me to leave it out there, leave it out on the floor. I was happy to come out today and get the job done.”

Rosario had the hot early hand, scoring 15 first-half points as the Gators raced out to a 21-point halftime lead and managed to hold off the Golden Gophers after their lead was cut to seven points with more than 12 minutes remaining.

Donovan and the rest of the Gators couldn’t have been happier.

After all, Donovan questioned Rosario’s intensity “in front of the team” during a morning meeting on Saturday.

“He’s a fifth-year senior, it’s his first NCAA Tournament appearance, and that’s the focus he comes with?” Donovan told Rosario. “There’s something wrong with that. And I think he felt bad about it.”

After Minnesota trimmed Florida’s lead to 53-46, Scottie Wilbekin and Rosario provided the Gators with a bit of breathing room with back-to-back three-pointers.

“Those are some big shots,” Rosario said. “I told myself, if I’m open, I’m going to knock down the shot. I felt that every time I had an open look at it, I’m going to take it. I told myself I’m not going to hesitate. They were falling tonight.”

Said Minnesota coach Tubby Smith: “We were back in the ballgame. Both those shots took a lot of wind out of our sails.”

After a poor first half, the Golden Gophers got back into it behind some sharpshooting of their own from Andre Hollins, who scored an equal number of points (25) on the same number of three pointers (6) as Florida’s Rosario.

But Hollins, as well as Minnesota’s primary inside force, Trevor Mbakwe, spent extra minutes on the bench due to foul trouble. Hollins picked up his fourth with nine minutes left.

The Gators held Mbakwe to 11 points and only six rebounds.

Rosario received scoring help from Erik Murphy, who fouled out with 15 points.

Now the Gators have a few days to prepare for Florida Gulf Coast, a team they’ve faced only once before, in 2008 when the Gators won 94-60.

But that was back before the Eagles were even eligible for the NCAA Tournament.

“I think it’s really hard to get out of the first weekend,” Donovan said. “It just is. There [are] so many good teams, I think that the parity of college basketball is certainly a lot different today than it was 25 years ago.”

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