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Colleges

Huskies end Gators pursuit of championship

By DAVID JONES
FLORIDA TODAY

Published:   |   Updated: April 6, 2014 at 08:37 AM

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Scottie Wilbekin had heard all the questions; the last one finally just was enough. Did he realize, Wilbekin was asked, that there was any game he could lose?

Florida’s senior point guard shook his head. The Gators had just fallen 63-53 to Connecticut, the defeat ending a school-record 30-game win streak in the worst loss of the season on Saturday night in the Final Four semifinal game.

“We knew we could lose any given night, this just happened to be the night,’’ said Wilbekin, who had just four points and one assist in arguably his worst game of the season.

It was the first time since the Elite Eight loss to Louisville in 2012 that Wilbekin had failed to collect either five points or two assists in the same game -- a span of 61 games.

It was the fewest points Florida had scored in an NCAA Tournament game since a 68-46 loss to Michigan State on March 23, 2003.

Florida (36-3) had not lost since UConn (31-8) had beat the Gators 65-64 on a shot at the buzzer by Shabazz Napier. The senior guard, who came into the night averaging 23.3 points in NCAA play, had just 12 on Saturday night.

He got a lot of help from DeAndre Daniels, who totaled 20 points on 10 rebounds, and Huskies coach Kevin Allie shifted the 6-foot-9 forward onto Wilbekin part of the night, also using Napier and Ryan Boatright to keep him out of the lane.

“The difference of the game was Scottie Wilbekin couldn’t live in the lane like had all year long for us,’’ Donovan said. “Every time we needed a big shot or a big play, whether against Arkansas or UCLA, he was in the lane. He had a really, really hard time getting around Napier and Boatright. He had a hard time getting around Napier which inevitably made our offense very, very difficult.’’

Florida had just one 3-point goal. Its previous season low for 3-point goals in a game was two vs. North Florida on Nov. 18.

“We just didn’t execute very well on offense,’’ said Michael Frazier, who finished with 3 points to tie his postseason low -- also finishing with just 3 points vs. Albany -- after shattering Lee Humphrey’s school record for 3-pointers in a season. “We had some defensive breakdowns. We just didn’t play to our standards.’’

The Gators tied their low for scoring in a game this season, getting 53 vs. Wisconsin on Nov. 12.

The Badger has also handed Florida its previous worst defeat of the season (59-53). The Gators just missed having their worst game shooting the ball as well, connecting on 38.8 percent. The worst was 36.2 at Tennessee.

Florida opened the game with seven unanswered points. UConn, which won the East Region as the No. 7 seed and was the 2011 national champions, got within 9-4 when the Gators put another 7-0 run together on a basket and a foul shot by Dorian Finney-Smith, a free throw by Casey Prather, who totaled 15 points, and a drive by Wilbekin.

That made it 16-4 at 9:48 and it looked like Florida was dominating. But the Huskies responded wiht an 11-0 run of their own. Daniels had a couple of threes and UConn hit four straight field goal tries to cut the margin to a point.

“We have been through a lot of dogfights and we continue to believe in each other,’’ Napier said. “We didn’t point fingers when we were down. We just understood that this was going to be a game of runs.’’

During the time out, Huskies coach Kevin Ollie wrote on his board, “Faith.’’

Ollie: “I knew we were going to get back in the game.’’

Florida bounced back for a 20-15 lead at 4:03 after a pair of Will Yeguete foul shots. But UConn responded again. Napier had one of his two 3-pointers. Niels Giffey’s bucket and free throw gave the Huskies the lead for the first time in the game at 3:18.

Napier didn’t score in the first 16-plus minutes but had six assists and four huge steals against a frustrated UF backfield.

Daniels, who finished with 10 points in the first half, had a jumper to put the Huskies up 25-22 at the break.

The Gators, who shot just 34.8 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes (1 of 7 from behind the arc), would never lead again.

Wilbekin struggled with leg cramps for the second straight weekend. He missed a part of the second half and when he was in the game Kasey Hill ran the point guard much of the time.

With Wilbekin struggling or on the bench, UConn stretched its lead into double digits. UConn was able to get into the paint for a couple of dunks by Ryan Boatright (13 points) and Daniels. A third Boatright bucket put the Huskies, who made half of their first 14 field goal attempts in the second half, up 37-27 with 13:10 left.

“It sounds crazy right now . . . (but) we didn’t come to Dallas to play in the national championship game, we came to win,’’ Boatright said.

Patric Young had a couple of baskets inside and Prather added a bucket to made it a 41-38 game with 9:12 left to play.

“I just really wanted our guys to get a fire in their eyes and realize, this was going to be for the rest of their lives,’’ said Young, of the pep talk he gave the team down the stretch. “I just felt we were a step slow today. I didn’t see it in our guys’ eyes.’’

That rally would turn out to be Florida’s last run at a national championship. Leading 43-40 with eight minutes to play, Terrence Samuel scored inside and Boatright made it 47-40 with a layup off a steal.

After a Prather foul shot, Daniels had back-to-back scores in the lane and it was 51-41 with 5:28 to go.

A game that the Gators had threatened to turn into a blowout went in the opposite direction after Wilbekin started struggling with cramps and UConn clamped down on what offense UF had to offer.

Young, who finished with 19 points, helped Florida get back within six points a couple of times down the stretch.

But a couple of foul shots by Napier and another bucket by Daniels and the lead stretched back to 10 points and it was never in question the rest of the way.

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