Saturday, April 5, 2014
Five Things: UConn beats Florida again
By Eamonn Brennan
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Florida is 36-3, but UConn is playing Monday night. Five things on UConn's 63-53 win in AT&T Stadium, a victory that puts it one win away from a national title every bit as unlikely as 2011's Kemba Walker-led sprint:
1. UConn beat Florida at its own game. Which is to say: defense. The Gators entered Saturday with the top-ranked adjusted efficiency defense in the country; the Gators had allowed just 0.94 points per possession in their four NCAA tournament games. Much less was made of UConn's defensive prowess, but the Huskies were no slouches on the defensive end in their own right: They entered Saturday ranked 10th in adjusted defensive efficiency thanks to their combination of perimeter pressure and interior shot-blocking.
That's exactly what they unleashed on the Gators on Saturday. Freshman guard Kasey Hill -- who had 10 assists in the Elite Eight against Dayton -- looked in over his head. Sharpshooter Michael Frazier II made his first 3-pointer of the game -- the first shot of the game, which put Florida up 3-0 -- and was never heard from again.
SEC player of the year Scottie Wilbekin was hampered by cramps and couldn't shake Ryan Boatright or Shabazz Napier. Wilbekin finished with three turnovers, one more than he had in his first 212 tournament possessions. One, with about seven minutes left in the first half, saw him leave the ball out in front of his body, practically begging for Napier to swipe it. Napier happily complied. Wilbekin's best look of the night came down 12 -- Florida's biggest deficit of the season, by the way -- with 49.9 seconds left. He barely grazed the rim. Florida scored less than a point per possession.
In short, UConn locked Florida down on the perimeter. It was the kind of disruptive, comprehensive performance we'd come to expect from the Gators -- the type of game in which you can't fathom the opponent scoring with any regularity. Only this time, in their first Final Four since 2007, the Gators were on the receiving end.
2. The Huskies were awfully good on the offensive end, too. UConn had polished off 1.10 points per trip by the time final buzzer sounded, the most any team had scored on the Gators in weeks. Some of those points came in transition, but a fair number came in the half court, with Napier and Boatright breaking down the Florida perimeter and finding open shooters for quality 3-point attempts. UConn shot 5-of-12 from 3 for the game -- a tidy, efficient 41 percent. Coupled with its defense, it was enough.
3. UConn's start gave no hint of what would come next. In the first 8 minutes, 49 seconds, the Huskies scored a grand total of four points. They didn't make shots, obviously, but the issues were deeper than that: UConn couldn't create any shots to take. Every ball screen was greeted by a Florida defender. Every attempt at penetration was halfhearted and tentative. Florida's defense was smothering, the Gators were scoring with relative ease on the other end and the energy in AT&T Stadium was nonexistent. It looked like we were in store for a dud. Not so much.
4. DeAndre Daniels is on a tear. Remember Daniels? The guy who came out of relative (though not total) obscurity to pour in 27 points in UConn's Sweet 16 win over Iowa State? He was great again Saturday night, shooting 9-of-14, scoring 20 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and making life immensely difficult for a Florida defense already scrambling to catch up with the UConn guards. Daniels makes UConn a nightmare to guard.
5. Casey Prather and Patric Young gave Florida a shot. Prather, a former role player turned star, was Florida's best player all season; Young was a four-year contributor with more than 3,600 minutes on his legs. Both will be heartbroken by the loss, but at least they can say they played well: Young had 19 points on 13 shots and added five rebounds, while Prather scored 15 points on 6-of-10 from the field and added six rebounds.