JOE BIDDLE: Florida’s Final Four dream crushed by Huskies

Kentucky advances to National Championship (Image 1)

Billy Ball backfired, broke down, had to be towed in.

After a sizzling start, Billy Donovan's top-ranked Florida Gators were eliminated from the Final Four by a 7-seed Connecticut team whose backcourt paved the way to a 63-53 win.

The Gators were a seven-point favorite against the Huskies and the favorite to cut down the nets Monday night. It will be Connecticut that will have a chance to climb the ladder with scissors in hand.

So this is how it happened to the Gators that ended their dreams in Arlington, Texas at AT&T Stadium.

“On offense, we just couldn't really get anything going,'' said SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin. “They were being really aggressive and we couldn't get into our offense. A couple of us were having bad shooting nights.''

Florida's first basket was a 3-pointer. It would be its final one in a season in which the Gators would grind out an amazing 36-3 record. Two of their losses were compliments of Connecticut and the hustling Huskies.

After they survived a stunning 16-4 start, it was Connecticut that would control the pace from that point on. They had two undersized guards clamp down on Florida's backcourt which included Wilbekin and shooting guard Michael Frazier II.

Wilbekin was not his self. He hobbled around on aching knees and cramps that would not abate.

With Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier hounding Wilbekin all over the court, the Gators guard never got in sync, taking ill-advised shots. Many of them failed to draw iron, as his frustration mounted. The Gators had only three assists for 40 minutes and that won't get it done at this level.

Wilbekin made only two of nine shots. He was 0 for 3 from the 3-point line. Wilbekin and Frazier II had one assist between them. Frazier was no factor on offense.

“I thought Boatright and Napier pressured our backcourt. Scottie Wilbekin had a hard time breaking them down,'' said Donovan, who was vying for his third national championship trophy.

Napier led the Huskies this season in scoring at 18 points a game. At only 6-1, 180 pounds, Boatright is listed as 6-feet, 168 pounds. He averaged 12 points, 3.4 rebounds and had 125 assists. Junior 6-6 forward DeAndre Daniels weighs only 195 pounds. He averaged 13 points a game to go with the 5.9 rebounds.

It was when UConn Coach Kevin Ollie decided to go small against the larger, more athletic Gators that the Huskies started to click.

“(Ollie) just said we had to play 40 full (minutes) on the defensive end,'' said Boatright. “If we could disturb and get Scottie Wilbekin as uncomfortable as we can, we would have a nice chance to win the game.''

Daniels finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds. He hit on nine of 13 shots and was 2 of 5 from 3-point land. Napier was all over the stat sheet, with 12 points, six assists, four steals and three rebounds. Boatwright had 13 points on five of nine shooting. He added six rebounds, three assists and a steal.

Connecticut had the stronger backcourt. It's in tournament time that teams who get superior backcourt play usually wins.

UConn built a 33-25 halftime lead and the Gators would never recover. They got within 45-40 before the Huskies increased the pressure and pulled away. The 53 points represent the lowest point total the Gators had all season.

As the final seconds ticked off, it had become clear that the best team Saturday night won the game. It was not that close.

“Everybody was at a level 5,'' said Ollie, only in his second year as the Huskies head coach, who replaced the veteran Jim Calhoun. “I told you they're fighters. They get down, they keep fighting.''

Ollie learned the game as a Connecticut point guard whose 619 assists still ranks third on the all-time list. He later had a 13-year NBA career where he studied under some of the best coaches in the game in Chuck Daly, Larry Brown and George Karl.

Ollie is not your usual second year head coach. He knew what to tell his team.

“We just wanted to be relentless. … We wanted to challenge every dribble, every pass,'' Ollie said. “We wanted to keep them on the baseline.

“Florida's a great team, a 30-game winning streak, a great coach, Hall of Fame coach and it's just an honor to play against him and compete.''

Contact Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at

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