The only two teams to defeat the (1) Florida Gators (36-2) this season will join them in the Final Four as the (2) Wisconsin Badgers (30-7) advanced Saturday night and the (7) Connecticut Huskies (30-8) earned a seat at the table Sunday afternoon.
Florida will get a chance to avenge at least one of its two losses on Saturday at At&T Stadium in Arlington, TX as it is set to take on UConn at 6:09 p.m. for the opportunity to advance to championship game of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Forty minutes after the game, Wisconsin and the (8) Kentucky Wildcats (28-10) – which UF has beat three times already this season – will square off for the other spot in the title game.
The Huskies and Gators fought down to the wire in their regular-season match-up on Dec. 2, 2013 with UConn taking down Florida 65-64 at home in Stoors, CT by outscoring UF 6-2 over the final 34 seconds with point guard Shabazz Napier draining a second-chance game-winner at the buzzer.
The shot may never have happened had UF senior PG Scottie Wilbekin, who injured his ankle with 3:01 to play and never returned, been on the court for the last possession. The team was also without its back-up floor general, freshman Kasey Hill, who missed the game with an ankle injury of his own.
With Wilbekin in the locker room, Napier was fouled on a made three-pointer by redshirt sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith with 34 seconds remaining. It was the third attempt the Huskies took from beyond the arc on the possession as they were able to grab two offensive rebounds, and the foul call itself was considered questionable at best.
“It was a four-point play but watching it on film, there was no foul,” head coach Billy Donovan said. “But we had two opportunities to rebound the basketball. Those two offensive rebounds hurt us.”
The Gators, however, were able to take their lead back 15 seconds later as sophomore guard Michael Frazier II got to the hoop and made a layup. They would not hold on to the advantage for long.
Napier, who to that point had scored 24 of his team’s 63 points on the evening, fought out of a trap beyond the three-point line, dribbled into the lane and missed a wild jump shot with under two seconds left. Luckily for UConn, F Deandre Daniels knocked back the loose ball to Napier, who shot a second jumper with 0.3 seconds left on the clock that swished as the buzzer sounded.
“We actually did a really good job,” Donovan said of his defense. “We made the decision that we were going to trap him – and we did trap him – we got him to take a very, very difficult off-balance shot.
“The guy that won the game for them was DeAndre Daniels. He made an unbelievable tip-out off-balance which kept the ball alive. What we did was we had guys that were on Napier kind of ran to the rim to go defensive rebound, which left space for Napier. We needed to keep a guy there and we didn’t. But his shot really was luck in the fact that the ball was tipped to him. If it’s tipped anywhere else [the game’s over].”
He later added: “The last play was really a fluke play. I don’t think DeAndre Daniels even knew…he just tipped the ball back because he was off-balance…but it was a great play by him to at least keep the possession alive.”
Senior forward Casey Prather led the way for Florida with 19 points and seven boards, while Wilbekin posted 15 points and senior center Patric Young was good for 17 with seven rebounds of his own.
The Gators are 10-0 all-time playing as the No. 1 overall team in the tournament, while the Huskies are just the second team in history to advance to the Final Four as a No. 7 seed (Virginia, 1984).