One bad game doesn't sully special season


Published: Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 10:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 10:19 p.m.

ARLINGTON, Texas — Casey Prather's eyes were red, and it wasn't the allergies that were bothering him.

Scottie Wilbekin was sniffling, and he didn't have a cold.

The Florida locker room was a different place Saturday night. It had been so long since they lost that they almost forgot what a quiet locker room sounded like.

“I can't put on this jersey again,” Prather said. “It's hard.”

Whatever the reason, Florida didn't have it against Connecticut in the first semifinal of the Final Four. The Gators were awful on offense and had lapses on defense. After a 16-4 start, they took bad shots and gave up too many good ones.

“Some of it was them and some of us, just … I can't give you an answer,” Wilbekin said.

The player who was the face of this basketball team had a game that is difficult to explain. UConn's guards attacked him, throwing him off his game on offense. When Billy Donovan turned to freshman Kasey Hill, they went after him like sharks in chum-filled waters, turning him over four times.

The officials allowed for a physical perimeter and the Huskies took advantage of it. They held Florida to its lowest first-half total of the season.

And they deserve credit.

But it was stunning to watch this team go out with such a whimper.

“We've had games where we didn't score like we wanted,” Prather said, “but we found a way to win.”

Not on this night.

On this night, Florida would have three assists.

“One of our worst games as far as offensive execution,” Wilbekin said. “That's not usually what we do.”

On this night, Florida would make a 3-pointer 11 seconds into the game and not another the rest of the way.

“They just denied me the ball,” said Michael Frazier II, who took only two more 3s after making the first one. “They were face-guarding me and sometimes that happens.”

On this night, Florida would have a stretch of 17:29 where only Prather would score a basket. He had three of them during that stretch, hardly enough to keep a team in a game.

“I kept thinking we'd come back,” he said.

On this night, the last shot of Wilbekin's career would be an air-balled 3. After he missed, he just shook his head.

“They were really disruptive,” he said.

“Chasing greatness” was the theme of this team, and they almost caught it. They had greatness by the heel, but it slipped out of the sneaker in a football stadium.

So many things ended Saturday night. The winning streak, the season, the careers of four wonderful young men. It was also the end of the best coaching job of Donovan's career.

I didn't think you could top 2006-07 when Donovan's team was everyone's target and he had to deal with agents and hangers-on. But this was better, much better, because he took a team that got here even though there's no way it should have. He molded a group of players to win 30 straight games and that still seems surreal.

Today, this team will be judged by many on what it didn't do instead of what it did do, and that's not fair. Yes, the Gators made it to Arlington without having to play the second- or third-seeded teams, but whose fault is that? Yes, they lost to a No. 7 seed, but isn't this the tournament where everyone was so bunched up that seeding was irrelevant?

These things happen in the tournament. The upsets are the beauty of the tournament, but they are also the curse when they happen to your team.

These players are disappointed and you are disappointed, but if a team that went 36-3 let you down, you need to stop watching college basketball.

If an overachieving team that didn't lose an SEC game, cut down three pairs of nets and brought three trophies back to Gainesville didn't get it done for you, you probably jumped on the bandwagon late and might have turned an ankle jumping back off Saturday night.

This was an incredible season with a sad ending. This was “Million Dollar Baby” and “The Wrestler” or “The Green Mile.”

Actually, if this season was a movie it would be called “There's Something About UConn.”

There are certainly people who will define the 2013-14 Florida basketball team by Saturday's loss. It's only part of the definition.

“I think for the first time in my life, I was part of a group of guys who were willing to bleed for each other,” Patric Young said. “One thing I can take from this team is just when you truly love a group of guys, you bring out the best in them and you bring out the best in yourself.”

The ride finally ended. But what a ride it was.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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