The scrappy Bulldogs, on Casey Calvary's tip-in with 4.4 seconds to go Thursday night, surged into the NCAA West Regional final, edging Florida 73-72.
"This is unbelievable," said Calvary, who last hit a game-winning shot "in the third or fourth grade. We've dreamed about this since we were little and now that we're there, we have to take advantage of it."
The 10th-seeded Bulldogs of the overlooked West Coast Conference trailed by three when Jeremy Eaton made a layup and Florida's Brent Wright then traveled with 15.4 seconds left.
Quentin Hall drove to the basket and missed, and Calvary, who had 10 points in the second half, tipped it home.
Florida's Eddie Shannon missed an off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer, sending Gonzaga within one step of its first Final Four.
"We were blessed today," Gonzaga's Matt Santangelo said. "It was not a pretty game, but we showed the heart and character of the team. It's like getting a new life and we'll savor it and then come ready to play Saturday."
That will be against the winner of Thursday's other game, matching top-seeded Connecticut against Iowa. Again, Gonzaga, just the fifth 10th seed to get this far - none has made the Final Four - will be an underdog.
That doesn't bother the Bulldogs a bit.
"This team has great character and they are great kids," coach Dan Monson said. "There are a lot of teams at home with better basketball ability, but we get through that with chemistry and character."
Florida is one of those hghly skilled teams no longer in the tournament. The Gators made one critical error down the stretch when Wright walked, and it was enough to decide the game.
"It just hurts inside that I let the team down," Wright said. "It's just real sad.
"I thought the ref gave me a timeout, but it was too late."
Freshman Mike Miller's layup put Florida on top 69-68, and Santangelo tied it with a foul shot.
Greg Stolt, the Gators' career 3-point leader, was wide open for his fourth 3 of the night with 45.7 seconds remaining, setting up the frantic finish.
"We were rushing. going too fast at times," Gators coach Billy Donovan said. "The turnovers hurt us."
Gonzaga showed surprising strength inside in the second half, making things easier for its guard-oriented offense. Several times, Florida didn't deny entry passes, setting up inside shots for the Bulldogs. When the Gators did sag, it opened the outside for Richie Frahm, while Calvary was the main beneficiary underneath.
After missing 17 of 20 3-pointers, Florida suddenly found the range. Stolt put the Gators ahead with 6:45 left with a shot-clock buzzer-beater. Frahm answered with his first of his three successive 3s for Gonzaga, but Miller connected to put Florida on top 62-61.
Frahm, who finished with 17 points, hit another from the corner and, after Shannon's drive tied it at 64, Frahm made yet another 3.
But he threw away a pass with 2:42 remaining and Udonis Haslem tied it with a layup.
Gonzaga's shooting was sharp from long range and abysmal from close in early. The Bulldogs hit four 3-pointers and missed four layups.
They kept right at it, blowing short shots but nailing the bombs, hitting five of their first seven 3s. They wound up 12-for-22 on 3-pointers and 13-for-33 on 2s for the game.
Florida, meanwhile, wasn't able to connect from outside the arc, missing its first eight 3-pointers. That lack of marksmanship - and an ineffective press - cost the Gators as Gonzaga went on a 15-3 run for a 26-13 lead. The Bulldogs (28-6) did it despite missing eight layups.
When the Gators (22-9) finally hit a 3-pointer, by Stolt, it was part of 14-1 surge that tied it 27-27. The press still wasn't working, but Florida got stingy with its half-court defense and the underdog Bulldogs got sloppy.
| Florida's Major Parker and Gonzaga's Casey Calvary fight for the ball. (AP)|
The rest of the half was tight, with Kenyan Weaks' steal and dunk with 15.7 seconds to go bringing Florida to 35-34. The Gators had to feel fortunate after goig just 1-for-11 on 3s and having 12 turnovers.
They took their first lead almost immediately in the second half when Weaks made another steal and converted a three-point play.
Gonzaga, which also looked like it was losing control in its second-round upset of Stanford, went on a 15-5 spurt. Unlike against the second-seeded Cardinal, however, the Bulldogs couldn't pull away and needed some last-second heroics by Calvary to stay alive.
"This is awesome," Calvary said. "Awesome."
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