Fab 5 last Michigan region final, Florida 3 in row
ARLINGTON, Texas — Trey Burke was a 16-month-old toddler the last time Michigan was playing this late in the NCAA Tournament.
That regional final 19 years ago, a loss that ended the Fab Five era, was played in a building that no longer exists. Where Reunion Arena once stood near downtown Dallas is now a vacant lot 20 minutes from where the Wolverines finally get another chance to return to the Final Four.
“It's definitely crazy,” Burke said. “Just to get this program moving back in the right direction means a lot to us.”
No. 4 seed Michigan (29-7) plays SEC regular-season champion and No. 3 seed Florida (29-7) for the South Regional title on the raised court at ultramodern Cowboys Stadium on Sunday.
The Wolverines advanced largely because of Burke, the sophomore and Big Ten Player of the Year who scored 23 points — all after halftime — as they overcame a 14-point deficit against top seed Kansas. They forced overtime when Burke hit a long tying 3-pointer with 4.2 seconds left in regulation and won, 87-85, in overtime.
“Yeah, I was surprised at how far I was,” Burke admitted after seeing multiple replays of the shot that may just become known as the Fab 3.
Burke also had 10 assists, making him the first player to have 20 points and 10 assists in the NCAA round of 16 since 1987. The last to do it? A Providence player known as “Billy The Kid” — aka Florida coach Billy Donovan, who will be on the opposite bench when his Gators play in their third consecutive regional final.
Florida has been to this point each of the last two years, but it hasn't been further since winning consecutive national championships under Donovan in 2006 and 2007.
This is now the last chance for seniors Kenny Boynton and Erik Murphy to get a title of their own.
“Game to game, it's a different feeling,” Boynton said. “Up to this point, our team does a great job preparing the right way.”
While Florida is loaded with seniors and NCAA Tournament experience, the Wolverines have three freshmen in their starting lineup. Junior Tim Hardaway Jr. is the only starter older than Burke.
“A lot of people doubted us, a lot of people thought we were too young, not tough enough,” Burke said. “I think we understood we have what it takes to be a young team that can go far in this tournament.”