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Senior Patric Young embraces teammate Michael Frazier II near end of Saturday's loss to UConn.

Sunday April 6, 2014The End: UConn Sweeps Gators from Final Four

Senior Patric Young embraces teammate Michael Frazier II near end of Saturday's loss to UConn.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

ARLINGTON, Texas -- When the realization hit Billy Donovan, about 90 seconds remained in this remarkable University of Florida basketball season. His team was down 10 and the opponent was shooting nearly 84 percent from the free-throw line in the postseason. Fouling wasn't going to do anything.

From his spot on the sideline, Donovan stared down at the official scorekeeper.

“Can we start over?” he asked.

If only.

Instead, the hugs and condolences (and, yes, the tears) began commencing moments later, as 18th-ranked Connecticut dribbled out the final seconds of a 63-53 defeat of the No. 1-ranked Gators in front of a Final Four crowd of 79,444 at AT&T Stadium. The 30-game win streak was done. The season was done. The dreams were done.

Instead of Florida (36-3) playing Monday night for the national championship, it’ll be UConn (31-8) against Kentucky (29-10), the Southeastern Conference foe UF swept in three meetings this season. Long after the Gators were back at their team hotel, the Wildcats upended Wisconsin with a dramatic last-second 74-73 victory.

It may not seem fair. It may not seem right.

But in finality, there is reality.

“I can't really explain how I feel because it just hasn't hit me,” a somber center Patric Young said after scoring 19 points, still unprepared to accept he had just played his final game alongside the winningest senior class in UF history. “These guys right next to me, the guys in the locker room, we're not going to be together in the same way again.”

The Huskies, the team that last defeated the Gators way back on Dec. 2, didn’t need a buzzer-beater this time. Instead, UConn's hyena backcourt mauled and manhandled UF guards Scottie Wilbekin, Michael Frazier and Kasey Hill and overwhelmed the Gators (36-3) like no team had done at any point this season.

Alarming Statistic: UF finished with just three assists and 11 turnovers.

Alarming Statistics II: UF had zero fastbreak points.

“That’s crazy. That’s not usually what we do,” said Wilbekin, who came into the game averaging nearly 17 points in NCAA Tournament play only to finish with four points his second-lowest out output of the season. “All the credit goes to them and their guards and the way they were denying and putting pressure on us.”

Forward DeAndre Daniels scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, but the game was dictated by the Huskies guard duo of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, who took the fight to Florida the way the Gators had done to opponents all season.

It wasn’t necessarily what Napier and Boatright did on the offensive end (their combined 25 points were five below their season average), but how they frazzled Wilbekin and Frazier, UF’s two leading scorers, who combined for just seven points and three field goals and, at times, appeared totally flustered by the physical nature of the Huskies. Hill, the freshman, had four turnovers, also. 

Wilbekin's inability to attack and beat his man off on dribble-drive penetration, the Gators bogged down in the halfcourt and perimeter looks dried up.

“The difference in the game was Scottie Wilbekin couldn't live in the lane like he had all year long for us,” said Donovan, who watched this season -- whether against Kansas, Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky, Pittsburgh or UCLA -- as his SEC Player of the Year penetrated and play-made the Gators to a school-record winning streak. “Every time we needed a big shot or a big play [this year], he was in the lane. But he had a really, really hard time getting in the there around Boatright. He had a hard time getting around Napier. That inevitably made our offense very, very difficult.”

And unproductive.

The Gators shot just 38.8 percent for the game and were a woeful 1-for-10 from 3-point range. Frazier, the SEC’s leader in 3-pointer percentage during the season, dropped a trey just 13 seconds into the game, and that was it for the rest of the night as the Huskies extended and overplayed their defense to deny him the kind of open looks that helped doom UF’s previous three NCAA victims.

That it all fell apart for Florida so swiftly and completely is something that will take some to get a grip on.

“We didn’t want it to end this way,” senior forward Will Yeguete said. “We wanted to win a championship.”

The Gators certainly started the game like they intended to play for one. Barely 11 minutes in, UF was in total command with a 16-4 lead and in sync on both ends of the floor.

On the Connecticut sideline, Coach Kevin Ollie wasn’t overly concerned. 

"I knew we were going to get back in the game. They knew we were going to get back in the game," Ollie said. "We live and die on defense and hopefully everybody understands that."

If not, they do now. Defense was supposed to be the Florida calling card, but the next 13 minutes UConn gave the Gators a lesson in aggression. And that was after schooling them from the 3-point line.

First, Napier dropped a 3. Then Boatright hit one. Then Terrence Samuel drove for a layup. Then Daniels hit another 3. Just like that -- 1 minute, 42 seconds was all it took -- the Huskies scored 11 unanswered and it was a one-point game. UConn grabbed its first lead, 21-20, at the 3:18 mark, and after Casey Prather (15 points) made a jumper, the Huskies got the lead right back on a drive by Napier that made it 23-22.

UConn never trailed the rest of the game, even taking the 3-point halftime lead out to double-digits very quickly into the second period.

“We just weren’t able to get stops and we weren’t able to execute on offense,” said Frazier, who finished with just three points. “We tried to speed them up with the press, but they were able to get what they wanted on offense and we weren’t able to get anything we wanted.”

The Gators had one semi-flurry midway through the second half when they twice cut the Huskies’ lead to three, but UConn had answers. That UF led the nation in adjusted defense (points per possession) this season was hardly evident as the Huskies shot 47 percent for the game and a sizzling 64 percent (14-for-22) in the second half.

"We’ve been in a lot of dog fights," said Napier, the first-team All-American and American Athletic Conference Player of the Year. "We are just an experienced group. We believe in each other and continue to believe in each other. ... We are going to win. That is what we do."

It was that kind of mentality that fueled the Gators this season. They just ran into a team that did it better.

And face it: Any team good enough to beat this Florida squad twice in a season deserves to play for the national championship.

That won’t be much consolation for the Gators over the next few days. The same can be said for their laundry list of incredible achievements and milestones that figure to mean a lot more as time goes by.

For Young, Wilbekin, Yeguete and Prather, those 120 wins and the SEC championships together will have to do.

“We didn't go out the way we would’ve like to, but only one team is going to do that,” Wilbekin said. “So we just have to try and remember all the good things that we did before this point. Even though it's hard right now, I'm sure that I'll look back on this year and be really proud of the guys that were standing next to me."


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