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Nik Stauskas leads Michigan over Florida and into NCAA Tournament Final Four

Nik Stauskas of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates after

Nik Stauskas of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates after shooting a three-pointer in the first half against the Florida Gators during the South Regional Round Final. (March 31, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Florida coach Billy Donovan called Michigan "the best offensive team in the country" before their meeting in the NCAA South Regional championship, and the Wolverines proved him right. All-American point guard Trey Burke and his teammates sprinted out of the blocks with 13 unanswered points, and Michigan never let the lead drop below 11 on its way to a 79-59 victory Sunday at Cowboys Stadium.

The Wolverines (30-7) pushed their lead as high as 24 in the first half as the Gators' defense focused on Burke and left freshman guard Nik Stauskas wide open. The sharpest-shooting Canadian since Steve Nash scored 19 of his 22 points in the first half, and shot 7-for-8 from the field, including all six of his three-point attempts.

"We felt we came out against Kansas pretty sluggish," Burke said, referring to Michigan's Sweet 16 win in which it overcame a 14-point second-half deficit. "Today, the key was to come out and throw the first punch. Nik played his best game all season. We noticed he was hot early, and we continued to find him when he was open."

The triumph returned Michigan to the Final Four for the first time since back-to-back losses by the "Fab Five" in the title game to Duke in 1992 and North Carolina in 1993. Those appearances later were vacated because of NCAA sanctions. Now, the Wolverines face Syracuse (30-9) in Saturday's semifinals.

"It means the world," guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said. "Twenty years have passed, and we haven't been on the stage yet."

Although Stauskas had the hot hand, the most outstanding player of the South Regional was Burke, who Sunday had 15 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals. Forward Mitch McGary added 11 points, nine rebounds and five steals. Florida (29-8) got 13 points apiece from Kenny Boynton and Will Yeguete, but senior forward Erik Murphy was scoreless, shooting 0-for-11.

"We dug ourselves a hole very early in the game," Donovan said. "At one point, I think we were 3-for-17 from the field. In the first half, we missed 11 shots within three feet of the basket . . . Stauskas [was open] because of Burke's penetration; they found him and he certainly opened up the game."

Stauskas hadn't hit more than two threes in the previous 13 games, but he said: "During warm-ups, I felt it right away. I told Trey, 'If I'm open in the corner, I'm going to knock it down,' and he found me. So I was just letting it fly."

Florida cut the deficit to 50-38 early in the second half when Michigan coach John Beilein pulled Burke. He was struggling with back spasms and fatigue from handling the ball so much. That was the Gators' opening, but after McGary scored on a layup for Michigan, reserve point guard Spike Albrecht stole Murphy's inbounds pass and scored instantly. When Burke returned to the game, Michigan's lead was back to 18.

Beilein admitted he thought back to his last Elite Eight appearance in 2005 with West Virginia when the Mountaineers blew a double-digit lead and lost to Louisville. "That crossed my mind today," he said. "Those first few minutes of the second half were troubling. I saw the fatigue right away, and that's why we gave Trey a break . . . That's huge to have somebody like Spike come in and do what he did on that stage."

The loss was the third straight in the Elite Eight for Donovan, but unlike last year's two-point game with Louisville and the overtime loss to Butler in 2011, this wasn't close. "The other two games, I was heartbroken for our team," Donovan said. "This game, we didn't deserve to win."

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