Senior center Patric Young had promised that the past would "not haunt us," that losses in the three previous Elite Eight games of the NCAA Tournament -- to Butler, Louisville and Michigan -- would not weigh on him and his top-ranked Florida teammates against Dayton on Saturday night.
Young assured that he understood Dayton's sentimental value after the No. 11 regional seed knocked off Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford. "That's just how it is," Young said. "As fans, we want to see the underdog team, whatever the sport, be able to knock down the David and Goliath- type story. But even if the fans are cheering for David, we're going to stay focused on the moment, one possession at a time."
Florida did. Outrebounding Dayton 37-26. Drawing fouls. (Florida made 21 of 28 free throws; Dayton was only 6-for-8.) Disrupting Dayton's usually keen offensive flow.
Florida coach Billy Donovan had insisted that, though four of his seniors had experienced Elite Eight disappointment for three straight years, "this is a different team." Anyway, Donovan said, losing at this point of the tournament is no different from being beaten earlier or later.
"It's never an easy exit out of the tournament," Donovan said, "because this is an exciting time. It's a lot of fun.
"I think, because of the quote, unquote nicknames -- the Sweet 16, Elite Eight, Final Four -- people determine where it's successful or not successful."
"I can tell you it was just as painful in 2000, walking off the court after losing the national championship game ."
Donovan and his players said they were happy, as Young put it, to "be here. It's kind of weird because I'm so used to walking into my locker room" after an Elite Eight loss. "It's shock and surprise and gratitude."
So Florida has punched its ticket to next weekend's Final Four in Arlington, Texas. Dayton goes home with the Memphis blues. But, too, Dayton coach Archie Miller said, "our seniors re-created a brand of basketball that the University of Dayton hasn't had in 30 years. That's a statement."