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 Florida wondering what happened.
Freshman forward Chane Behanan made the go-ahead basket with 1:06 left Saturday and the fourth-seeded Cardinals (30-9) 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 in the final seconds.
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.
“What happens is, you can’t lose confidence,” Pitino said. “I kept telling the guys, ‘We’re going to the Final Four. Win the Big East Tournament, you’re going to the Final Four,’ and they did.”
Pitino, a young coach, and Donovan, an undersized guard, developed a partnership that took Providence on an unexpected trip to the 1987 Final Four. The two have developed a father-son relationship.
“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.”
Seventh-seeded Florida (26-11) went out in the regional final for the second consecutive year, with Donovan falling to 0-7 lifetime against the man who hired him as an assistant at Kentucky.
Bradley Beal and Erik Murphy had 14 points for the Gators (26-11).