UConn downs Gators in Final Four

The Florida Gators walk off the court as Connecticut Huskies celebrates after the second half of the national semifinal Final Four game at AT&T Stadium on Saturday, April 5, 2014 in Arlington, Texas. Connecticut defeated Florida 53-63 to advance to the national championship.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 8:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 11:53 p.m.

ARLINGTON, Texas — A Florida season that began with uncertainty and evolved into one of great promise ended with the Gators unable to solve Connecticut's stingy, stifling defense.

Florida had its 30-game winning streak snapped in a 63-53 Final Four loss Saturday that will be remembered for senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin struggling on college basketball's biggest stage.

Whether Wilbekin's cramping issues were worse than he let on after the game remains uncertain, but with the 6-foot-2 Gainesville native at less than 100 percent, Florida's offense became dysfunctional.

“It was right when the second half started, I was getting a little cramped,” Wilbekin said. “It wasn't too bad, but I got out of the game, I got some ice and it wasn't really a problem from then on.”

But Wilbekin was noticeably limping down the court during some stretches in the second half when he returned at the 15:58 mark.

Wilbekin had some cramping issues in the second half of UF's 62-52 Elite Eight win over Dayton. Florida coach Billy Donovan said there were no cramping issues for Wilbekin in practice leading up to Saturday's game.

“He's had a problem with that at different points in the season, and very, very rarely does he ask me to come out, but he asked me to come out within the first minute of the second half,” Donovan said.

But even before Wilbekin's cramping flared up, Florida's offense was out of whack. After jumping to an early 16-4 lead, the Gators scored just six points in the final 9:48 of the first half. Florida hoisted up some questionable shots during that stretch (including a 3-pointer from senior forward Will Yeguete and an 18-foot baseline jumper from senior center Patric Young) and finished the first half just 5-of-9 from the free-throw line. Young missed two front ends of one-and-ones in the closing minutes. Connecticut led 25-22 at halftime, holding UF to its lowest first-half scoring output of the season.

It didn't get much better for UF's offense in the second half. Florida finished the game shooting 38.8 percent from the floor with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3 to 11.

“The difference in the game was Scottie Wilbekin couldn't live in the lane like he has all year for us,” Donovan said. “Every time we needed a big shot or a big play, whether it was Arkansas or UCLA, he was in the lane.”

Part of the credit goes to the gameplan of Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie, who had 6-foot-9 forward DeAndre Daniels clog the lane and keep Wilbekin from penetrating.

“We wanted to really stay on Wilbekin, keep him out of the lane, keep him on one side,” Ollie said.

Also, Connecticut guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright flustered Wilbekin and freshman point guard Kasey Hill with ball pressure throughout the game. The duo combined for five of UConn's six steals.

“We just couldn't get anything going,” Wilbekin said. “They were being really aggressive and we couldn't really get into our offense. We weren't moving the ball as well.”

Young led the Gators with a season-high 19 points with senior forward Casey Prather adding 15 points. Wilbekin, who came into the game averaging 16.7 points and three assists in the NCAA tournament, wound up with just four points, one assist and three turnovers. Hill was no better spelling Wilbekin, finishing with seven points, no assists and four turnovers.

After sinking a 3-pointer to start the game, Florida sophomore guard Michael Frazier II finished with just three points on 1-of-3 shooting from 3-point range. Frazier, a 44.8 percent 3-point shooter, had as many 3-point attempts as Florida sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith, a 30 percent 3-point shooter. Overall, Florida was just 1-of-10 from 3-point range.

Young credited Napier and Boatright for doing a good job blanketing Frazier throughout the game.

“We found him early and he was really aggressive, but it was tough to find him for a good look the rest of the game,” Young said. “We just weren't running the offense the right way, as good as we have been during the year. So it was tough to find him, tough to find a lot of shots.”

Defensively, the Gators bottled up Napier (12 points, six assists), the All-American point guard, but couldn't account for Daniels, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds. Connecticut outrebounded Florida 28-27.

Florida finished its season 36-3, one game short of its fourth national title appearance in school history. Two of the losses came against Connecticut (31-8), which was the last team to beat the Gators (65-64 on Dec. 2).

This one wasn't as close, but all the more painful because it ended UF's season and the careers of seniors Young, Wilbekin, Prather and Yeguete.

“We're a great team, I think,” Yeguete said. “We accomplished a lot of great things during the year. They played better than us tonight, but I think Scottie is a great player, Patric as well and so is Casey. This game is not changing anything, regardless of how I feel, of my relationship with them.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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