Inside UConn: Huskies use win over UF as motivation

Connecticut Huskies guard Shabazz Napier (13) passes during practice for the Final Four at AT&T Stadium on Friday in Arlington, Texas. Florida faces Connecticut in the NCAA national semifinal game.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 12:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 4, 2014 at 8:38 p.m.

Whenever his team lost a tough game or got down on itself during the season, like, say, after losing to Louisville by 33 points three weeks ago, Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie knew exactly what to do.

He’d break out the tape of the Huskies’ buzzer-beating win over Florida on Dec. 2 and make his players watch it.

“We took a lot from that game, the resiliency we had,” Ollie said. “We got down and came back. We played hard. We played scrappy. (Florida) is a tough team, an experienced team. They play so hard and don’t give an inch. It was a great game to be a part of.

“When we came into difficult times (after that) and weren’t playing up to our capability, you put that tape in. (Florida) hasn’t lost since Dec. 2. You watch the tape and say, ‘We played with those guys. We know what level we can play at. Don’t lose sight of that.’

“We’d watch the tape and our guys would rally around that to get that championship mentality back.”

Ollie has not had to go to the tape in a while.

That’s because the Huskies have been on a roll over the past three weeks, reaching their conference final and then sweeping through the East Regional to advance to the Final Four, where they will face No. 1 Florida (again) today.

The No. 7 seed Huskies have been Gator tough in the NCAA tournament, sweeping St. Joseph’s, Villanova and Iowa State to reach the region final, where they rallied from a nine-point second-half deficit to defeat No. 4 seed Michigan State, 60-54, on Sunday.

As they usually are, the Huskies were led by All-America guard Shabazz Napier, who scored 17 of his 25 points in the second half to ignite the comeback win over the Spartans.

Napier is the same guy who beat Florida on Dec. 2 with his shot at the buzzer.

That emotional victory has been a factor throughout this Final Four season for the Huskies, Ollie said.

“We gained a lot from that game,” Ollie said. “Florida is a serious bunch. Every cut they make is hard. Every screen they set is hard. Every dunk play is hard.

“It taught our guys that you can’t take a play off, you can’t relax. To beat a team like that, you can’t relax for a minute. That has stayed with us.”

All the way to the Final Four, for a second date with No. 1 Florida.

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or

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