No apologies; Florida's here for title

Updated: April 1, 2006, 10:59 PM ET
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Florida Gators did the dirty work of fracturing America's fairy tale Saturday night.

Did it with relish. Did it without mercy. Did it without a hint of regret.

Cinderella is dead, and the Gators are the proud perps.

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)Joakim Noah and Al Horford led Florida's stingy defense.
"We kissed Cinderella, put her back in her pumpkin, sent her home to her stepmom and stepsisters," said forward Corey Brewer, showcasing his knowledge of the Brothers Grimm.

Brewer and his boys were the grim reapers in the RCA Dome, getting George Mason down early and grinding their sneakers into the Patriots' throats. It had been a glorious March romance, but the calendar flipped over to April Saturday and the Mason miracle was done.

The final score was 73-58, Florida's fourth double-digit victory in five tournament games. The Gators were too long and athletic around the rim defensively, too suffocating on the perimeter, too relentless on the offensive glass. Their domination was such that there was only faint hope all night for a fifth consecutive Mason upset.

It was a colossal buzz kill for fans of college basketball's most compelling underdog story in decades. Which was fine with Florida, the nation's new villains.

The black hats fit. They'll wear 'em.

"I don't feel bad at all," said big man Al Horford. "They had a good run, they were a good story, but it had to come to an end tonight. They were playing the Gators."

"They wouldn't feel bad if they beat us," reasoned backup center Adrian Moss.

"I guess that'll make everybody mad at us," backup center Chris Richard said. "We had to end the story."

"Sometimes," said forward Joakim Noah, "it feels good to be the bad guy."

Noah, who has morphed from confident to borderline cocky in this tournament, seemed especially well-suited for that role. He blew off team huddles when he wasn't in the game, staying seated on the bench out of ear shot. And when LSU fans chanted "Tiger bait!" at the Florida players when they left the court, Noah responded by aiming an exaggerated Gator chomp their way.

But the guy who truly spayed and neutered the underdogs was shooting -- and we do mean shooting -- guard Lee Humphrey. George Mason was supposed to be the latter-day Milan story, but the buzz-cut Humphrey was the guy who looks like he's straight outta Hickory High.

"Humpty" drilled six 3-pointers and scored 19 for the game, showing that the most overlooked member of the Florida starting five can sometimes be the deadliest. Humphrey hit three straight 3s to open the second half and break the game open.

His teammates have seen the sharp shooter from Maryville, Tenn., do this before. He's a 46 percent 3-point shooter on the year, and the only time when he struggled shooting the ball this season was a stretch in February after he injured his shoulder falling off his bicycle on campus.

His teammates recommended training wheels. The trainers took care of the wing. Humphrey came back gunning -- and when a couple shots go down, and he's bouncing on the balls of his feet, look out.

"When I see 'Humpty' walking with that little bop, you know it's over," Noah said.

We kissed Cinderella, put her back in her pumpkin, sent her home to her stepmom and stepsisters.
Corey Brewer

"I just started running back on defense," Horford said. "There's no sense going to chase rebounds when Lee shoots."

Humphrey grew up watching Peyton Manning throw spirals for the Volunteers, so it was a special thrill for him to meet Manning at the Final Four banquet Thursday night -- then to light up the dome where Peyton plays. When a writer -- from Gainesville, naturally -- asked Humphrey whether he might be able to teach Manning about performing well in a big game, Humphrey shook his head.

"I don't know about that," Humphrey said, laughing. "Peyton, he's performed well in some big games, too. I don't know if he can take any tips from me."

Humphrey's final 3 put the Gators up 64-50, and then it was time for the final flurry from George Mason. Five straight points cut the deficit to single digits for the first time since early in the second half. The Mason fans, living on a prayer, rose to their feet and tried to will another miracle.

Florida would have none of it. Playing volleyball on the offensive glass and hitting their free throws, the Gators squelched any possibility of a comeback.

"Not until I looked up at the clock and there was under to minutes, and it was at 15, did I realize, 'Gee, we're not going to have a shot at this,' " George Mason coach Jim Larranaga said.

Larranaga has reveled in this joy ride for all he's worth, and he capped three weeks of motivational work by reading his team a limerick before the game. It was another cute touch from a coach who has mastered the moment.

But ultimately, this moment belonged to the boys from old Florida. They seized it, squeezed it and made no apologies for killing off the best March Madness story in years.

As Florida coach Billy Donovan pointed out, his kids were as happy to reach Indianapolis as George Mason's.

"Our kids weren't expected to be here, either," Donovan said.

Now Florida can take aim at the national title while George Mason takes stock of its historic run and appreciate what it did. It was fun while it lasted, but reality intruded Saturday night. Big, bad Florida moves on.

"You can call me a villain whenever you want to," Moss said. "I want to be called a champion."

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.