For the second time this season the Connecticut Huskies beat the Florida Gators. The first time it was a Shabazz Napier buzzer beater, and this time it was exceptional defense from the senior, a huge game from DeAndre Daniels and the much bigger stage of a convincing 63-53 win in the NCAA Tournament’s national semifinal.
Florida were riding a 30-game winning streak but like the previous times to reach the Final Four on such a long run of success, they failed to go all the way. The offense completely shut down after that impressive 16-4 run, and their 1-3-1 zone defense which has been so successful all season long couldn’t find a way to hold back Shabazz Napier from driving or the passes to DeAndre Daniels, finishing with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
UConn have a great defense too. Napier made this game a living hell for Scottie Wilbekin, who finished with only four points and 2-of-9 from the field. UConn pressured up top very well, and Florida couldn’t get the ball into the paint, finishing with only 24 through the entire game. Their 3-point shooting was horrendous, (1-of-10 from beyond the arc) and they had only three assists the entire game.
Napier finished with 12 points, 6 assists and 4 steals, pushing UConn forward constantly on the break. He struggled early on, but once he began penetrating and finding his way through the Florida defense, the Gators’ tenacity and mental strength seemed to fold, while the Huskies felt more and more confident with every minute that went by.
Kevin Ollie is the 3rd coach in the last 30 years to reach the national title game within his first 2 seasons as a Division I head coach following Mike Davis of Indiana and Steve Davis of Michigan. It’s hard to describe how difficult it was for him to keep things together – a team without tournament prospects during his first season, and managing not to let the talent get away from him and transfer somewhere else.
Ollie himself was in something of a defensive stance the entire game. In some way, his players kept feeding off of that. By putting freshman Terrence Samuel (18 minutes) next to Napier and Ryan Boatright UConn were able to put that excellent and effective pressure on the Gators’ ball handlers, and outscore Florida by 15 points and had 11 more points than they had in 22 minutes with him on the bench.
Probably the favorites to win the national championship when this tournament began are off, and into a rebuilding process, with a lot of players leaving. Their farewell from college basketball isn’t as happy as it seemed it might be about a month ago, but what hurt them earlier this season with a dramatic game at UConn proved to be too much for them again, as their offense looked completely puzzled as to how and win a game with Wilbekin playing one of his worst games of the season.
I knew we was going to get back in the game. They knew we was going to get back in the game. We live and die on defense and hopefully everybody understands that. We have been in a lot of dog fights. We are just an experienced group. We believe in each other and continue to believe in each other. … We are going to win. That is what we do.