Rushed Reactions: #7 Connecticut 63, #1 Florida 53Posted by rtmsf on April 5th, 2014
Rush the Court is covering the Final Four from Arlington, Texas, this weekend.
Three Key Takeaways.
- Tale of Two First Halves. The tone for this game was set in the first half, with Florida running out to a seemingly dominant 16-4 lead with 10 minutes gone. At that time, the Gators looked nothing less than dominant on both ends of the floor — bigger, stronger, and methodically having their way with the Huskies. The problem was that the lead needed to be bigger than it was, because from the 8:49 point of the first half UConn closed to take a 25-22 halftime lead and kept it up to ultimately double up one of the nation’s best defensive teams by a margin of 59-37 the rest of the game. UConn did it by making some timely shots, of course — DeAndre Daniels’ pair of early threes in particular — but where the Huskies were really able to stifle the Gators was in completely shutting down Florida’s starting backcourt of Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier (3-of-12 FG for seven points). The backcourt duo had essentially taken turns leading Florida offensively through the South Region, but without either capable of getting anything going tonight, it was left to Patric Young (19/5) and Casey Prather (15/6) to carry the load. In a game where points were at a premium, the Gators’ defense wasn’t going to be able to manufacture enough to compensate for a rough 39 percent overall and 1-of-10 from three shooting performance.
- On Florida’s Go-To Guy. With 49 seconds remaining, the game was all but final when Florida’s senior leader, Scottie Wilbekin, shot a horrifically off three-point airball that caused a shot clock review. There were a couple of notable moments related to that miss. First, it iced the game for the Huskies and all of the Gators’ body language afterward clearly exhibited that fact. But it also served to illustrate why Florida spent all year gambling in its reliance on a crafty, steady, solid point guard like Wilbekin to become its bona fide go-to guy. Billy Donovan’s team had a magnificent college basketball season, ending a 30-game winning streak with a 36-3 record and a loss in the Final Four — there’s no shame anywhere in those numbers. But as he noted after tonight’s game, “Given our talent level, we played way better than our potential.” And he’s right, with Wilbekin as Exhibit A to that notion. The NCAA Tournament is a cruel mistress, and many players far better than him have been eliminated much earlier than the Final Four, but it’s really difficult for a really good collegian with no professional prospects to have so many good offensive performances in a row (against high-quality competition).
- The Huskies Won Without a Huge Night From #shabazzketball. So if you were told before the game that Shabazz Napier would have a pedestrian 12-point, six-assist performance in the Final Four, there’s no way that you pick the Huskies to win, right? That’s what is somewhat scary about how well some of the other UConn players are performing right now, particularly DeAndre Daniels. In a low-possession game (57), a quiet night from Napier is perfectly fine so long as Kevin Ollie also gets 11 points from Niels Giffey, 13 from Ryan Boatright, and 20 from Daniels, all coming in an efficient manner. What he can’t have is guys spraying wild shots all over the place, and I for one can’t remember more than a couple of questionable takes from Ollie’s group all night. The proof is in the pudding, too — the Huskies hit 77 percent of their foul shots, 61 percent of their twos, 41 percent of their threes, and lit up the Gators’ defense for 1.11 points per possession. That kind of full-team performance is how you beat #1 seeds.
Star of the Game. DeAndre Daniels, Connecticut. The “x-factor of all x-factors,” as RTC columnist Brian Otskey tweeted in the closing stages of the game, Daniels had another saving-grace performance that allowed the Huskies to shake off a timid start and power through to the victory. Twenty points and 10 rebounds on 9-of-14 shooting from the field — similar in both form and function to his 27/10 contribution against Iowa State eight days ago — kept the Gators at bay. His two threes in the first half seemed to allow UConn to get its offensive legs under it, and gave the team the poise and confidence to finally start playing with Florida as equals before getting down too far.
- “We’ve been playing great defense all year. We had some bumps in the road — that Louisville game — I think that team promoted us, a lot of people said it would destroy us, but we made adjustments from that game and we got better from them.” — Connecticut’s head coach Kevin Ollie, referring to a question on whether the light went on for his team in the last few weeks.
- “We shot 34 percent in Madison Square Garden. What kind of home court advantage is that?” — Ollie, stressing that defense rather than offense is where UConn makes its bacon.
- “We understand we’re going to get compared with them [the 2011 National Champions]. We want to choose our own path.” — Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier, talking about how this team compares with the 2011 team.
- “We’ve been saying all year that we have a complete team. We’re not just one guy, two guys, we’re a complete team.” — Connecticut’s Ryan Boatright, discussing the notion that the team didn’t need a superstar performance from Shabazz Napier to win this game.
- “We accomplished a lot really by just loving each other.” — Florida’s Patric Young, on his emotions on playing his last game.
- “The difference is Scottie Wilbekin couldn’t get in the lane like he had all year.” — Florida head coach Billy Donovan, referring to what went wrong with his offense tonight.
- “Given our talent level, we played way better than our potential.” – Donovan, on all of the accomplishments of his 36-3 team this season.
Sights & Sounds. This pair of Florida fans had perhaps the best getup in the entire building tonight. Speechless.
What’s Next? For Connecticut, a trip to Monday night, that’s what. The Huskies will play in their second National Championship game in four years, with Napier, Giffey and Olander logging a total of 58 minutes against Butler three years ago. The Gators, meanwhile, finally broke through to the Final Four with this group of seniors, but with a 36-3 season falling one game short, there will no doubt be some teeth-gnashing in Gainesville over this.