NORMAN — The road to redemption goes through North Texas for a fearsome Final Four of power programs with something to prove.
Florida, the top overall seed, returns to the Final Four for the first time since winning consecutive titles in 2006-07, this time without all those first-round NBA picks.
Waiting for the Gators at Jerry Jones’ billion-dollar stadium on Saturday will be Connecticut, back near the top of the bracket under Kevin Ollie after being barred a year ago for academic problems.
Wisconsin and coach Bo Ryan will be there, too, finally in the Final Four after so many near-misses. Bo knows the Final Four — even if his father won’t be there to join him this time.
Facing the Badgers in the other national semifinal will be all those Kentucky kids, once written off as too young and inexperienced to play for a title before they head off to the NBA.
This Final Four contains no upstarts or mid-major party crashers, just big boys with big chips on their shoulders.
Donovan won a pair of national titles in Gainesville with Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer and Al Horford, all top-10 NBA picks in the 2007 NBA draft. After that second title, he accepted the head-coaching job with the NBA’s Orlando Magic, then changed his mind after the introductory news conference.
Donovan continued to produce winning teams at Florida, but the biggest wins eluded the Gators. They lost in the regional final each of the past three seasons.
That changed when the ferocious Gators (36-2) rode their chomping defense through a 30-game winning streak capped by Saturday’s 62-52 win over bracket darling Dayton.
“We didn’t start off the exact way that we should have, but coach Donovan continued to remind us and humble us and help us see that, in order to get where we want to get to, the end goal, we have to continue to chase greatness every single day and stay in the moment,” Florida forward Patric Young said.