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March 31, 2013The Florida game plan seemed like a logical one based on Michigan's Sweet 16 win over Kansas: try to take away the inside, concentrate on sophomore Trey Burke and let the supporting cast attempt to beat them. Junior Tim Hardaway Jr. didn't take advantage of his looks, but freshman Nik Stauskas certainly did.
Burke, playing with back spasms, finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists despite shooting only 5-for-16 (1-for-5 from three-point range. Hardaway was 3-for-13, also 1-for-5 from behind the arc.
And Stauskas? He came out gunning and never stopped, making all five of his triples in the first half and his only one in the second, a critical triple from nearly behind the backboard on the baseline.
"We put so much emphasis on Trey Burke and we did a good job containing him a little bit," Florida's Patric Young said. "We didn't think Stauskas had the ability to shoot as well as he did tonight, the ability to score as well as he did. Him being able to do that helps his team, makes it so much better.
"Syracuse has a lot to prepare for next Saturday."
So might Louisville the following Monday if the freshman continues to shoot so well. Stauskas nearly didn't miss in warm-ups, and he didn't miss from three-point range in the 79-59 win. He about jumped out of the gym after his fifth one that gave U-M a 41-17 lead.
Though the Gators made a run, Stauskas' spot - the left corner - proved too much to overcome.
"Nik didn't have to do anything - he was just standing in the corner and we were finding him," Hardaway Jr. quipped to postgame laughter in the media room. "That was the corner shot that he was working on all pregame, so our big men did a great job of just rolling to the basket and collapsing defense and us guards were just finding him on half court and on fast breaks. So it was easy for him."
Stauskas didn't disagree. He never got down on himself despite missing open looks the last few weeks, knowing his slump would come to an end.
"I was calling it for the last week," Stauskas said. "I was due for one of these games. It's been a while. I just came out there in warm-ups and my jumper felt real good, so I just let it fly. As soon as I shot my first shot today I knew it was going to be it. There was a different feel, a different kind of rhythm."
Florida coach Billy Donovan credited Burke for continuing to ride the hot hand.
"It's all a result of Burke. Those guys, they do not have players that really are able to create for themselves, but what happens is because Burke is such a great scorer - this adds a different element, because he has such deep range, Burke. Now you're playing him at the three point line, he's got such speed and quickness, when he turns a corner you provide help. You've got to give help on [Mitch] McGary rolling to the basket and he skips it across the floor."
"Some of the threes that Stauskas got off was our fault and some of it was really, really good offense by them."
Stauskas can create for himself off the dribble, too, and did with a late drive and finish. On Sunday, though, he did what he did best - shoot it - and his teammates rode his incredible wave.
"This moment is unbelievable," he said. "I'm having so much fun. It's surreal at this point.
"Honestly, I feel spoiled at this point. The Final Four my first year - it's just unbelievable."