MEMPHIS — Cinderella, meet the Florida Gators, the team that has snuffed your feel-good stories so frequently in recent NCAA tournament history.
In 2006, George Mason had taken its turn as destiny's darlings. Jim Larranaga's 11th-seeded team shocking Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and Connecticut en route to the Final Four.
FLORIDA: Headed to the Elite Eight
Then came the party-pooping Gators who crushed the Patriots 73-58.
Last season, Florida Gulf Coast brought "Dunk City," into the nation's consciousness with upsets against Georgetown and San Diego State on the way to the Sweet 16.
Billy Donovan's wicked stepbrothers dispatched the 15th-seeded Eagles 62-50.
The latest lesser-regarded program to emerge in March – the Dayton Flyers – will test the top-seeded Gators' resolve on Saturday in the South Region championship game at FedEx Forum.
Fresh off upsets of Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford, Archie Miller's team has the school's rabid fan base buzzing and the country-wide bandwagon about ready to burst.
Will Florida again treat the upstart's glass slipper like Jerome Lane once did a backboard?
"We try to play every game the same way and with the same intensity regardless of who we're playing," Gators senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said. "What we try to do is not focus on who we're playing, but focus on us and focus on how we need to play in order to advance."
Florida (35-2) has its own demons to exorcise. The Gators have advanced to the Elite Eight in each of the past three seasons, only to be shut down one step short of the Final Four and three wins shy of the national championship.
A senior-laden lineup featuring Wilbekin, center Patric Young and forwards Will Yeguete and Casey Prather are playing like they have something to prove.
Wilbekin, suspended by Donovan at the beginning of the season for violating team rules, went on to become the Southeastern Conference player of the year, a guy known for his steely resolve with the ball in his hands and the game on the line. He has averaged 14.6 points and three assists in the tournament run.
Young (seven rebounds per game in the tournament) repeatedly eschewed the NBA for the chance to chase a title.
Yeguete (six points, four rebounds per postseason game) and Prather (12 points, 3.6 boards) too have stood and delivered.
"It's our goal to make it here and the fact that we've got this opportunity, we're not going to let the moment get bigger than us," Young said. "We're just very blessed and fortunate to be a team that can play for a Final Four again. We're going to prepare and do the best we can, especially as a senior class, because it's our last go-round to make it to that next step."
Miller isn't buying the characterization that his program is a flash in the pan. The Flyers (26-10) have proven they can move the ball, shoot the three-pointer and defend with the best of them. Junior guard Jordan Sibert (12.5 points per game) and senior forward Devin Oliver (11.9 points, 7.5 rebounds) are catalysts. The Dayton playing rotation goes 12 deep. Its bench outscored Stanford 34-2 in the semis.
"Cinderella comes up on a team that hasn't been there in a while," Miller said. "If you're there eight out of nine years and you crack a Sweet 16 a couple of times, they don't call you Cinderella. The reason they call us Cinderella isn't because we are an 11 seed. It's more that we haven't been here in a long time.
"This team's been really good to be around because if you just talk about what needs to be done and you keep it simple, it's good. But when you start making things bigger than they are, they are going to look at you funny. So we don't talk about it a whole lot.
"If they want to call us Cinderella every year and get us to the Elite Eight, I'll take it."
Will Florida again ruin a Rockwell portrait? Can the Gators get over the hump and head to Dallas in search of the third national championship in Donovan's tenure as coach?
Expect the fairy tale to be fractured here in the home of the Blues. Expect Florida to storm to the Final Four and maybe more.
ALL THE SWEET 16 ACTION