Dallas Colleges: Scottie Wilbekin
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.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- After five days of prelude, it's hard to find something new to say about these games -- every angle has been explored, discussed, dismissed and recycled, often in the matter of an afternoon. No analytical stone goes unturned, and yet, the underlying matchups we'll see on Saturday remain as fascinating and exciting as ever.UConn vs. Florida
What to watch: Can UConn's defense keep it in the game? Fact is, no matter good Shabazz Napier is -- and he's really, really good -- the Huskies are probably going to struggle on offense. Florida's defense is the best in the country, and it's also well suited to guarding a perimeter-oriented, guard-dominant group like Kevin Ollie's. But UConn's defense is a top-10 per-possession unit in its own right, and if the Huskies frustrate Florida inside and keep Michael Frazier II from knocking down 3s from the wings, and they can keep the game close enough to give themselves a shot in the final few minutes well, is there any player you'd rather have in that situation than Shabazz?
Who to watch: Napier is the star of the show here, obviously, and UConn's chances are inextricably tied to how well its point guard plays. But that won't necessarily be enough: Ryan Boatright will have to create some rotation havoc with dribble penetration; DeAndre Daniels will have to get to the rim here and there; Niels Giffey will have to make shots.
Key matchup: Again, there is an obvious answer here: Napier, the best guard in the country, will frequently be guarded by Scottie Wilbekin, arguably the best perimeter defender in the country. And vice versa: Napier will have to check the always-calm SEC player of the year when Florida runs its spread pick-and-roll stuff. But I'm also interested to see how UConn matches up with Casey Prather, Will Yeguete, Dorian Finney-Smith and especially Patric Young down low. If Florida gets easy post buckets early and often, look out.
Who wins (with final score): Florida 72-66
What to watch: Is "everything" an acceptable answer? There's so much to see here: John Calipari leading the nation's most talented team to an unlikely (if not exactly surprising) late-season renaissance. Bo Ryan reaching his first Final Four with a team that plays an up-tempo, picture-perfect rendition of his elegant swing offense. The startling youth of Kentucky. The reliable veterans of Wisconsin. The high likelihood of a game decided by one or two possessions in the final moments. A massive state-of-the-art stadium filled with die-hard fans in red and blue.
There is no such thing as a bad Final Four game, and Florida-UConn is going to be great. But this has all the makings of a classic.
Who to watch: Frank Kaminsky's uber-efficient offensive play is what lifted the Badgers' already lights-out offense to even greater heights in March; it's what allowed them to score 1.19 points per trip in four games (the latter of which included Arizona's smother defense and a Baylor team that destroyed Creighton two nights before Wisconsin put it through a clinic). And so much of the discussion here this week has revolved around how Kentucky will stop Kaminsky. Zone doesn't seem like a viable option, UK is missing Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson can't play far from the rim. Can Julius Randle take on the task? Marcus Lee? Does Kentucky go small and use Alex Poythress -- who has had a very solid tournament -- at the 4?
Key matchup: The above are all valid questions, but Wisconsin's offense is crafty enough to score against athleticism in all kinds of configurations. (See: last weekend.) Wisconsin's defense -- or, more precisely, its defensive rebounding -- may decide the game. Kentucky is the best offensive rebounding team in the country. It grabs nearly 43 percent of its misses. It uses drives to the rim to peel defenders away from their assignments, at which point Randle and company devour easy second-chance points. Wisconsin is a pretty solid defensive rebounding team, but it hasn’t seen anything like UK. Can it hold the line?
Who wins (with final score): Wisconsin 68-67
|Florida Gulf Coast athletic director Ken Kavanagh joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss his school's Cinderella story and playing in the Sweet 16 at Cowboys Stadium.
These are the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, the first No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16 -- and the team you’ll be rooting for Friday evening.
Unless you’re a Florida fan, of course.
The third-seeded Gators (28-7) will try to avoid becoming FGCU’s latest upset victim when the teams square off in the South Regional semifinals at Cowboys Stadium. Andy Enfield’s squad opened NCAA tournament play by defeating 2-seed Georgetown and 7-seed San Diego State.
“We know the nation is behind us,” Murray said. “Everybody loves a Cinderella.”
Especially this Cinderella, with its motley crew of a roster filled with basketball vagabonds and unlikely success stories. The Eagles’ personalities make them easy to root for -- and their loose, high-flying, slam-dunking style of play has made them the must-watch team of the tournament.
And that’s fine with Enfield.
“It’s the personality of our players and our team and our culture,” he said. “What you’re seeing is genuine. They enjoy being here. They enjoy playing the game of basketball.”
The Eagles (26-10) have certainly earned the respect of their opponent.
“It’s tremendous what they’ve done,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “It’s been a great ride for them. NCAA tournament-history-wise, this has never happened. It’s a state-of-the-art, new thing.”
And the Florida Gulf Coast campus is relishing it.
When forward Chase Fieler walked into the bookstore on the school's Fort Myers campus this week, he said the place was so packed he could hardly move.
“You can’t really describe the atmosphere on campus,” he said. “It’s just been a busy week, with the attention and the media being around. It’s exciting.
“At the first news conferences [last week], people weren’t really sure what questions to ask us. They looked at us with blank stares. Now they’re asking us how we’re preparing for a No. 3 team, or they have questions for us personally. No matter what happens from here on out, this is something we’ll never forget.”
WHOM TO WATCH
Florida’s Erik Murphy, Patric Young, Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario each average between 10.3 and 12.8 points per game. Guard Scottie Wilbekin is the Gators’ defensive specialist. Florida Gulf Coast’s Eddie Murray and Chase Fieler have produced some of the NCAA tournament’s best dunks thus far.
WHAT TO WATCH
Florida Gulf Coast is the first 15-seed to advance to the Sweet 16, so it’d obviously be a huge feat if the Eagles ended up in the Elite Eight. Florida has lost in the Elite Eight each of the past two seasons.
STAT TO WATCH
Billy Donovan’s Gators have been brutal in close contests this season. Florida is 0-6 in games decided by single digits.
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