Gators seeking to avenge loss to Huskies to reach title game
Not many teams can say they’ve defeated every team on their schedule.
If Florida make it to Monday night (and so does Wisconsin), the Gators can say they’ve answered all comers even if they've lost twice this season.
In an odd turn of events, the only two teams that defeated Florida during the course of the season, Wisconsin and Connecticut, are in the Final Four. The third team, Kentucky, is one Florida has faced three times the year. Beat UConn and Wisconsin, and Florida can say it defeated everyone on its schedule at least once.
Before the Gators can try to avenge a loss to Wisconsin or defeat Kentucky for a fourth time, they’ll need to make up for a 65-64 loss to UConn from Dec. 2. In that game, Shabazz Napier hit the buzzer beater in a game in which Florida lacked point guard Scottie Wilbekin for the final minutes and backup point Kasey Hill for the duration of the game.
So if you’re keeping track: Florida, playing without two point guards, lost a road game on a last-second shot to UConn. Everything seems to point to Florida if the outcome is going to change the second time around.
But UConn is in the middle of an improbable run for a No. 7 seed to the Final Four.
“It's a different game; That was four months ago,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “We're a different team. I'm a different coach. Billy Donovan's definitely got better understanding his team and what it takes for his team to win. So it's going to be a whole different game.”
Time: 6 p.m. Eastern
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony and Steve Kerr
Announcers: David Steele, Mark Wise
Announcers: Eric Frede, Donny Marshall
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Florida 73-61
Braden Gall: Florida 69-59
Mitch Light: Florida 71-63
Nathan Rush: Florida 85-80
Scottie Wilbekin is playing his best basketball of the season, averaging 16.7 points per game in the Tournament. The Gators, though, are anchored by a stifling defense. In the SEC and NCAA tournaments, only one team has scored more than 60 points against Florida.
Related: Wisconsin-Kentucky Game Preview
How UConn got here:
All-American Shabazz Napier has put the Huskies on his back, averaging 23.3 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. That’s up from his season average of 18.1 points per game.
Related: Opposing coaches scout the Final Four
Key matchup: Wilbekin vs. Napier
When the two point guards first met in December, Wilbekin didn’t play the final minutes due to an ankle injury. Napier went on to score the game-winner on a buzzer beater. The two shot-making guards have been their teams’ focal points all season, and now they’re facing off in a national semifinal. This could be one of the best individual matchups of the entire Tournament.
Related: 10 Amazing Stats about the Final Four teams
Player to watch: Florida’s Patric Young
UConn’s frontcourt doesn’t offer a ton offensively outside of DeAndre Daniels, but Phillip Nolan and Amida Brimah are two solid defenders. The Huskies allow opponents to shoot only 42.1 percent from 2-point range. Florida’s center Young won’t be outworked or outmuscled. While the backcourt battle will be key, Young will need to contribute.
Related: Most NBA players? School rankings? Party school rankings? Comparing the Final Four
Florida will win the national title if…
The Gators maintain their current level of play. Florida entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed and has looked the part so far. In this one-and-done era, the Gators have a dominant senior class led by Wilbekin, Prather and Young.
Florida will lose to UConn if…
They allow the Huskies to get open looks from beyond the 3-point line like the Gators did during a 65–64 loss in Storrs on Dec. 2. Florida has won 30 consecutive games since losing to UConn on a day Kevin Ollie’s team shot 11 of 24 (45.8 percent) from downtown but only 12 of 29 (41.4 percent) from inside the arc.
UConn will win the national title if…
The Huskies continue to get championship-caliber play from Napier, who has been doing his best Kemba Walker impression during the NCAA Tournament — averaging 23.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.0 steals, while shooting 25 of 27 (92.6 percent) from the free throw line, over four games to lead No. 7-seed UConn to the Final Four.
UConn will lose to Florida if…
The Huskies don’t get an outstanding performance from Napier, who scored 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting (including 5 of 8 from 3-point range) and hit the game-winning shot as time expired in the Huskies’ win over the Gators earlier this season. Much like UConn’s 2011 national title team led by Walker, this year’s Huskies rely on Napier to carry them.
Athlon editors Mitch Light and Nathan Rush contributed to this report.