Michigan reaches "peach tree" goal

Final 4 bound - Matt Emmons USA TODAY Sports

Michigan coaches and players have hinted at their lofty goal of winning a national championship since all the way back in October. Sunday afternoon the Wolverines took another giant step towards that, beating Florida in decisive fashion to advance to the Final Four in Atlanta.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Since the pre-season one of Michigan's goals for the year was to make it all the way to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament.

"Once you're in it, you try to win two games and advance," said Michigan assistant Jeff Meyer in a sit down interview with GoBlueWolverine back in September. "And then you try to win two more games and advance. And then you try to get to the peach tree street. You just try to get to Atlanta and you do it one day at a time."

Michigan's process like approach to the season that's been swinging in full gear for five months brought them to the precipice of history Sunday afternoon at Cowboy Stadium with an Elite Eight match-up with the No. 3 seeded Florida Gators. Less than 48 hours after their emotional comeback win over Kansas Friday night, the Wolverines had the pedal to the medal from the get go, seizing their moment and beating the Gators soundly, 79-59, to play one, possibly two more games for a shot at the national championship.

"As it's been like all year for our coaching staff, we've been working with the finest group of young men, as fine as anything we've ever been around," said coach John Beilein afterward. "The distractions were minimal, the attention to detail and work habits were sensational.

"To see it all come together for them today, because it's really about the kids, about the student-athletes, seeing it come together, I don't know what to say.  I'm a little bit speechless."

For the dedicated fans of a Michigan basketball program that hadn't tasted this sweet, victory laden and rare tasting Gatorade since 1993, the last time the Wolverines were in the Final Four of the NCAA tournament, the memory feels like a lifetime ago.

And for most of this young Michigan team, it was a lifetime ago.

"It means the world," said Tim Hardaway Jr. "20 years has passed and we haven't been on the stage yet.

"It's a young team. But everybody buys on the coach Beilein system. And it's great to have everybody just buy into it and go out there and play as hard as they can."

Michigan gave Florida no time to settle in Sunday, playing ball hawking pressure defense -- the style the Gators are used to inflicting on their opponents -- and finishing their opportunities on the offensive end lead by freshman shooting sensation Nik Stauskas, who knocked down all six of his three-point attempts on his way to 22 points.

Prior to Sunday, Stauskas had made just two of his previous twelve attempts from distance in three previous tournament games.

"I can't even explain the feeing to you cause I was out there having so much fun," said Stauskas. "I've been working and dreaming my whole life about something like this.

"It's been a while since I had a game like this. My teammates did a real good job of finding me when I was open. My shot felt good. So I was just letting them fly."

After leading 47-30 at the half, Florida made a run, cutting the Michigan lead to as little as eleven. The Wolverines never relented though, closing this one out on their way to a 20-point victory.

And Michigan, set to face Syracuse in Atlanta Saturday night at 8:49pm/EST, isn't ready to stop here.

"This team has faced a lot of adversity this year, and a lot of people doubted us to get to this point," said point guard Trey Burke. "A lot of people said we were too young, we weren't tough enough.  But I definitely think that's why we played with a chip on our shoulder over the last couple of weeks.

"And it feels great just to be going to Atlanta with a team like this.  Like I said, we fought back through adversity and we're here now.  We still have unfinished business, we have to continue to take each game by each game." 

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