UF MEN'S BASKETBALL
Post play key to Florida-UConn rematch
Published: Friday, April 4, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 4, 2014 at 9:41 p.m.
ARLINGTON, Texas — The buildup for Saturday's Florida-Connecticut rematch in the Final Four has centered around the matchup between All-American point guards Scottie Wilbekin and Shabazz Napier.
Who: Florida Gators (36-2) vs. Connecticut Huskies (30-8)
When: 6:09 p.m.
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Gainesville-area radio: 103.7 FM
But with Wilbekin out with an ankle sprain in the final three minutes of UF's 65-64 loss at UConn on Dec. 2, it's easy to overlook what kept the Gators in the game down the stretch.
It was Florida senior center Patric Young getting deep post position and making baskets inside, scoring seven straight points in less than two minutes. It was Florida sophomore guard Michael Frazier II coming around a curl play to score a rare inside basket to put Florida up 64-63 with 18 seconds left.
If Wilbekin and Napier cancel each other out from a scoring standpoint, which seems likely, how well Florida plays inside could determine whether Florida makes its fourth trip to a national title game under head coach Billy Donovan.
“The rebounding plays, the hustle plays, are going to be huge for the game,” Florida senior forward Will Yeguete said.
In the first meeting between the two schools, Florida outscored Connecticut 32-14 in the paint and got UConn centers Phillip Nolan and Tyler Olander to foul out. UF outrebounded Connecticut 34-26, but didn't take advantage enough on second-chance points. Florida scored only 12 second-chance points, compared to 11 for Connecticut.
The biggest second-chance points for the Huskies, of course, came when forward DeAndre Daniels deflected back Napier's own missed shot, which allowed Napier to make the game-winning shot at the buzzer.
“A lousy shot, followed by a great shot,” Napier said.
Florida has learned its lesson since, not being too overzealous chasing offensive rebounds and keeping one player back between the basket and the shooter.
“Our frontcourt has a very good understanding of what we're trying to do every single game, much better than in the beginning of the year,” Young said.
Florida has flexed its muscle at the right time. Over their last three games, the Gators have outrebounded opponents by an average margin of 9.1. In its 62-52 win over Dayton, Florida struggled to score down the stretch, but grabbed four straight offensive rebounds on one possession, which allowed the Gators to bleed close to two minutes off the clock.
“It's that time of year,” Florida assistant coach Matt McCall said. “Our guys' focus has been through the roof. Every game your season comes down to 40 minutes of basketball. You have to play defense at a different level. You have to rebound at a different level. That's how you advance in this tournament.”
How well is Connecticut equipped physically to handle Florida this time around? The Huskies opened some eyes by handling the physical battles in their 60-54 Elite Eight win over Michigan State. Connecticut held its own on the boards against one of the most physical teams in the country. Michigan State outrebounded the Huskies 32-30. But Connecticut limited the Spartans to just six offensive rebounds and two second-chance points.
“Michigan State is a very physical team up front with (Adreian) Payne and the rest of their guys,” Donovan said. “They jam it inside. So I think we're a physical team, but clearly UConn is a physical team as well when you watch that game.”
For the season, though, UConn is just plus-0.4 in rebounding margin. In the matchup of starting centers, Nolan (212 pounds) gives up 28 pounds to Young (240). Daniels (195 pounds) gives up more than 35 pounds to Yeguete (230) at the power forward spot.
“We lack size all year, but the one thing we don't lack is heart,” Daniels said.
Daniels and Nolan said the Huskies have been doing a better job of late boxing out in practice. Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie said the key will be for his big guys to stay active and avoid foul trouble.
“We are a complete team,” Ollie said. “It's not just our guards. It's our bigs. It's our coaching staff.”
It also will be important for Florida's big guys to stay out of foul trouble. Sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith (8.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and freshman forward Chris Walker (2.0 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 7 blocked shots) are capable of stepping in if Yeguete and Young get whistled for early fouls. But ideally, Florida would want Young and Yeguete on the floor as long as possible to wear down UConn's undersized frontline.
Young and Yeguete will need to stay disciplined against penetrating UConn guards Napier and Ryan Boatright. The Huskies get to the free-throw line an average of 21.2 times per game.
“Our pick-and-roll defense, especially Napier and Boatright, coming full speed at us, I think we're going to have to do a good job,” Yeguete said. “Especially the bigs, just to stay up on them, make sure they don't split, make sure that we keep them out of the lane where they can create and score.”
Said Young: “It's just going to be a team effort. Everyone is going to have to do their part.”
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Michael Frazier II 6-4 So. 12.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Sr. 13.4 ppg, 3.7 apg
F Casey Prather 6-6 Sr. 13.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg
F Will Yeguete 6-7 Sr. 5.0 ppg, 52 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Sr. 10.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg
CONNECTICUT PROBABLE STARTERS
G Ryan Boatright 6-0 Jr. 12.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg
G Shabazz Napier 6-1 Sr. 18.1 ppg, 4.9 apg
F Niels Giffey 6-7 Sr. 8.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg
F Deandre Daniels 6-9 Jr. 12.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg
C Phillip Nolan 6-10 So. 3.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg
Notes: Florida is making its 17th NCAA tournament appearance in school history and 14th under Billy Donovan (NCAA tournament appearances in 1987 and 1988 were vacated due to sanctions). The Gators are 39-14 all-time in the NCAA tournament and 35-11 under Donovan. … Florida is making its fifth Final Four appearance in school history and fourth under Donovan (2000, 2006, 2007, 2014). Donovan is 5-1 in Final Four games. … Florida is holding teams to 57.6 points per game this season and 55 points per game in the NCAA tournament. ... The Gators are just the third team to win all four of their NCAA tournament games by double digits while holding all four opponents under 70 points, joining Michigan State in 2000 and Duke in 1999. … Connecticut is making its sixth Final Four appearance in school history and third in six years. The Huskies have won national titles in 1999, 2004 and 2011. … Florida senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin is averaging 16.7 ppg and 3.0 apg in four NCAA tournament games, with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 12 to 2. … The Gators are 7-1 in games decided by five points or less this season with the lone loss coming at Connecticut (65-64) on Dec. 2. … Florida will need to do a good job guarding Niels Giffey on the perimeter. The Connecticut senior guard/forward is shooting 49.1 percent (56-of-114) from 3-point range this season.
Three things to watch
1. Containing Napier
Is there a blueprint to stop Shabazz Napier? “Even if there was, I wouldn't tell you,” Napier said. The lightning-quick, 6-foot-1 point guard scored 26 points against the Gators in UConn's 65-64 win on Dec. 2, tied with Kansas freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins (26) for the most against UF this season. “He's one of, if not the best guard in the country,” Florida assistant coach Matt McCall said. “I think you can only hope that you can force him to take as many tough, difficult shots as possible with the understanding that some of those are going to go in and if those shots do go in, you can't let it deflate you.”
2. Taking care of the ball
In its last meeting with UConn on Dec. 2, Florida finished with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 8 to 16, its worst of the season. Forward Dorian Finney-Smith (6) and Casey Prather (5) combined for 11 of UF's 16 turnovers. It will be important for Florida to stay strong with the ball and avoid careless passes. UConn starting junior guard Ryan Boatright is a pesky guard capable of generating steals.
3. Florida's bench
Florida is a different team depth-wise compared to its last meeting with the Huskies. UF's two freshman McDonald's All-Americans — Kasey Hill and Chris Walker — did not play. Hill sat out with a sprained ankle while Walker wasn't eligible yet due to NCAA and academic issues. With Hill and Walker, Florida now has a rotation that's nine-deep. With Hill available to spell Florida starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin during some stretches, it should make Wilbekin more fresh down the stretch in the second half.
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