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The Gators dropped to 6-2 Monday night in a 65-64 loss at UConn.

Tuesday December 3, 2013Napier's Second-Chance Buzzer-Beater Sends UConn Past Gators 65-64

The Gators dropped to 6-2 Monday night in a 65-64 loss at UConn.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

STORRS, Conn. -- You can only give a team so many second (or third) chances.

And when that team boasts a player like Shabazz Napier, heartbreak like Monday night happens. 

Napier, the gunning Connecticut point guard, grabbed a tipped-out offensive rebound and threw in a 15-foot jumper as time expired, giving the 12th-ranked and unbeaten Huskies a thrilling 65-64 win over the 15th-ranked and stunned/bummed Florida Gators before an insane sellout crowd of 10,167 at Gampel Pavilion.

The loss snapped a five-game winning streak for the Gators (6-2) and it came with an extra punch in the gut, just for good measure. Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin rolled his right ankle and left the game for good with three minutes to play.

“It’s a sprained ankle,” UF coach Billy Donovan said. “To what level or what degree, I don’t know.”

Wilbekin left the arena without the aid of crutches or a walking boot, but the medical staff will need to re-evaluate the swelling Tuesday.

“It would have been great to have him,” senior forward Casey Prather said. “But we still have great players. We still had a chance to win the game.”

Napier led all scorers with 26 points, including his team’s final six over the last 30.6 seconds. He went 9-for-15 from the floor and 5-for-8 from the 3-point line, where the Huskies (8-0) made 11 of their 24 bombs as a team.

But that dagger 2-pointer is the one the Gators will remember most.

“I have a lot of respect for Napier at the end of games,” Donovan said. “I think he’s a big shot-making guy. His [winning] shot was luck because it was tipped to him.”

First things first.

Try to follow.

Florida led 61-58 after senior center Patric Young (17 points, 7 rebounds), playing his best all-around game of the season, converted an old-fashioned 3-point play with 1:18 to go. Out of a timeout, the Huskies worked the clock to try and find a 3-pointer.

Napier missed from distance at the 1:03 mark, but guard Lasan Kromah grabbed the long rebound. Kromah then missed from the arc 20 seconds later and Napier grabbed the long rebound.

Ten seconds later, Napier pulled up for another 3, coming down on the foot of Gators forward Dorian Finney-Smith. The officials blew the whistle, hitting Finney-Smith with the foul. The ball swished through and Napier converted a third-chance 4-point play to give UConn the lead with 34 seconds remaining.

The Gators, working without a point guard (no Wilbekin and freshman Kasey Hill out for his fourth game with his ankle injury), got a great screen for sophomore guard Michael Frazier, who drove the lane and banked in a layup with 17.7 seconds to go for a 64-63 lead.

Donovan took a timeout to figure out what who he was going to deal with Napier, given the Gators’ best on-ball defender, Wilbekin, was in the locker room.

“We made the decision we would trap him,” the UF coach said.

No way the Gators were going to allow Napier to get his shot on his terms. Florida’s defense smothered the UConn guard, who definitely wasn’t expecting the extended pressure. He momentarily lost his handle trying to dribble through a double-team, but Napier got the ball back and pulled up for a 18-footer that hit the left side of the backboard, missing everything.

Everything except the flailing hand of 6-foot-9 teammate DeAndre Daniels, who batted the ball blindly behind him.

Right back to Napier, who wide open at the free-throw line after the Gators guarding him crashed the glass.

Shot. Horn. Swish. Bedlam.

“Growing up, I wanted to be Superman,” Napier roared afterward in a scrum of media and fans. “Everyone wants to be a hero.” 

Daniels was the unsung type.

“It came off so quick, none of us had a chance to grab it,” Young said. “[Daniels] got a hand on it. Shabazz was in the right place at the right time.”

And the Gators, for the fifth time the last two seasons, suffered another body blow against a good team away from home. Losses at Arizona, Missouri, Kentucky, Ole Miss in the Southeastern Conference Tournament title game and now Monday night in New England makes five defeats against those marquee teams by a combined 12. points.

“We have to come up with those loose balls,” Prather said. “That was unacceptable.”

Prather led the Gators with 19 points to go with seven rebounds, but also turned the ball over five times. Reserve forward Dorian Finney-Smith had another six turnovers. That’s 11 between two players. UConn converted UF’s 16 giveaways into 24 points. Those miscues offset a good night shooting (49 percent), despite the Huskies doing a decent job taking away the 3-point line, where UF was just 3-for-9.

Wilbekin had 15 points, three rebounds and a pair of assists when he left for the night, leaving the Gators basically with five players -- DeVon Walker (foot sprain) played just two minutes; walk-on Jake Kurtz (flu) just 6 -- to finish the game.

Four UF players logged at least 33 minutes, with two others going for 24.

“I’m proud of our guys,” Donovan said. “We battled and we fought back.”

The Gators coach talked over the weekend about the need to do the little things -- like getting to 50-50 balls and making free throws -- to eliminate the element of luck from the end of a game.

UF, which went 11-for-17 from the line, beat UConn to its share of those balls, but the Huskies were the dogged ones down the stretch.

The winners, too.

“There’s going to be some hell to face when we watch that on film,” Young said. “The opportunities we gave them to come back into the game? We should have closed the door on them.”

Instead, the Gators had it slammed on their fingers.

And it hurt. 


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