By German Claudio Jr.
ARLINGTON, Texas – AT&T Stadium set the grand stage for this year’s Final Four match-up between the underdog No. 7 Connecticut Huskies versus the favorite No. 1 Florida Gators. On this day, the underdog team won 63-53.
These two teams faced off in late-December at Storrs, Connecticut where senior guard Shabazz Napier (12 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists) sent the Gators back home to Gainesville with a loss after a game winning buzzer beater. Florida since then has not lost a game and was riding a 30-game winning streak.
The Gators have been the talk of the town in the week leading up to this game coming in as the favorite to beat the underdog UConn Huskies. Seems as if Connecticut has had no problem with being the underdog because, quite frankly it has worked out in their favor beating everyone that was the favorite in which they were set to play.
The first few minutes of the game showed a very aggressive Florida squad. They swarmed the Huskies with their intense defense and spot on shooting going out in front, 7-0. Defending the paint and their size differential was a huge factor in what was keeping Connecticut from scoring. The Huskies found themselves battling the shot clock on their first few possessions resulting in highly contested shots that often came from out of range.
Florida senior guard Scottie Wilbekin put his team up by 12 points after a tough layup, 4-16, with 9:38 remaining in the half. Things weren’t looking too good for UConn who couldn’t catch a break on neither end of the floor until junior forward DeAndre Daniels shed some light by sinking a much need three pointer, 7-16. Ending the dry spell created momentum for the Huskies that they captivated in order to go on an 11-0 run, 15-16, all in a minute and a half span.
UConn’s DeAndre Daniels had another big game scoring 20 points and 10 rebounds. His aggressiveness to get into the paint, great shot decisions, and terrific display of rebounding the basket ball was certainly needed to take down a tough Florida team. All season long this sort of style of play was sought after by the Huskies as well as the Husky fans that know what damage Daniels is capable of.
Junior guard Ryan Boatright (13 points, 6 rebounds) played amazing defense all game long. His defensive effort made him a nuisance to his opposition playing a key role in Connecticut’s comeback helping to keep Florida’s scoring threat, Scottie Wilbekin locked down (4 points).
Connecticut’s first lead of the game came on an and-one play made by senior forward Niels Giffey (11 points, 4 rebounds), 21-20. Florida made numerous trips to the line but couldn’t capitalize on the situation. Yet, the Gators managed to be down by only three points by the end of the half, 25-22.
UConn’s ability to fight back against the favorite, top ranked Florida squad to take the lead was all the fuel needed to come out in the second half strong. Big shots, rebounding on both ends of the floor, and getting out on transition for easy baskets all helped put the Huskies up by ten points, 37-27, through the first seven minutes. They led over Florida in both three-point and points in the paint categories.
As expected, the Gators clawed back and made their presence felt after switching to a 1-3-1 defense. Back to back shots by senior center Patric Young brought the lead down to four, 39-35. Senior forward Casey Prather (15 points, 6 rebounds), as well as Young (19 points, 5 rebounds), were the driving forces in keeping Florida in the game. Both teams traded baskets but Florida just couldn’t get over the hump. Lob passes from both Napier and Boatright led to easy buckets and trips to the foul line which is Connecticut’s strength.
Connecticut did the unimaginable and ended Florida’s 30-game winning streak in the highly anticipated rematch to reach the National Championship game for the second time in three years, 63-53. They will not face off for the NCAA Championship against the winner of the No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats versus the No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers