Advancing to the Final Four for the fifth time in school history and first time since 2007, the (1) Florida Gators (36-3) fell short of their ultimate goal on Saturday night, falling 63-53 to the (7) Connecticut Huskies (31-8) in the 2014 NCAA Tournament at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. After the game, head coach Billy Donovan and some of his players met with the media to discuss the difficult loss.
WINNINGEST TEAM IN SCHOOL HISTORY (THE SHORT LIST)
» Total wins: 36 (previous high: 35)
» Best record: 36-3 (previous best: 35-5)
» Highest winning percentage: .923 (previous high: .875)
» Longest winning streak: 30 games (previous long: 13)
» Most regular-season wins: 29 (previous high: 26)
» Best regular-season record: 29-2 (previous best: 26-5)
» Highest regular-season winning percentage: .935 (previous high: .839)
» Most total SEC wins: 21 (previous high: 16)
» Best regular-season SEC record: 18-0 (previous best: 13-3)
» Highest regular-season SEC winning percentage: 1.000 (previous high: .813)
WINNINGEST SENIOR CLASS IN SCHOOL HISTORY (THE SHORT LIST)
» Total wins: 120 (previous high: 117)
» SEC wins: 55 (previous high: 47)
HISTORY AND STREAKS
» Florida’s school-record 30-game winning streak was bookended by losses to UConn.
» The Gators went 0-2 against the Huskies, 36-1 against the rest of their schedule.
» Donovan lost his first Final Four game after winning three-straight to start his career (2000, 2006-07). UF is now 3-2 all-time in Final Four games (loss in 1994).
» UConn has now snapped two 30-game winning streaks by emerging victorious in a Final Four game, previously defeating Duke in the 1999 semifinals.
» The Huskies have the best Final Four winning percentage among teams that have played in at least three semifinals. UConn is now 7-1 (.875) in Final Four games.
» Florida lost its first-ever game as the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and now holds a 10-1 all-time record (6-0 in 2007, 4-1 in 2014).
» The Gators were the fourth team since 1979 to enter the Final Four with a win streak of 30+ games. None of the four teams have won the national title.
» The Huskies became the eighth team to beat the No. 1 overall seed in the Final Four. Five of the previous seven teams to accomplish that feat went on to win the national championship.
» Florida lost its first neutral-site game of the season (9-1).
» The Gators are now 25-6 playing as the top team in the country.
» Florida had three assists in the game, its fewest in a single contest this season by four (previous low: seven). The Gators have not combined for fewer than seven assists in a single game over at least the last four campaigns. UF went without an assist for a span of 34:34 during the game.
» The Gators’ three dimes were the fewest for a team in a Final Four game since the assist became an official statistic in 1983-84.
» Florida had single-digit assist and double-digit turnover totals in all three of its losses this season.
» Both teams faced their largest deficit of the tournament in the game. Florida led by 12 early, and UConn went ahead by 12 late in the contest. The 12-point deficit was the Gators’ worst all season.
» After starting the game up 16-4, UF lost the rest of the contest 59-37.
» Florida went just 1-for-10 from three. It was the first time since Feb. 20, 2010 that UF made only one triple in a game. The Gators also shot worse than .200 from beyond the arc for the only time in 2013-14.
» UConn had four points and six turnovers during the first 11 minutes of the game. The Huskies amassed 21 points with zero turnovers over the next nine minutes.
» For the first time since 1997, the NCAA will have a national champion in basketball that did not win its regular season or conference tournament title.
» For just the third time since 1979, there will not be a No. 1 or No. 2 seed playing for the national title.
» UConn became the first seven-seed to reach the national title game.
”Well, congratulations Connecticut. I thought they played extremely well today. Unfortunately for us, I didn’t think it was one of our better games, and I think Connecticut certainly had a lot to do with that.
“I thought we got off to a very, very good start in the game, and I thought the reason we got off to a good start in the game was our defense was very, very good. Right after that point, we had three or four possessions right in a row where some of our pick and roll coverage broke down, which led to, I think, three straight threes and the lead went from 12 to three pretty quickly.
“Then I think once they got their defense set, I thought we had a hard time handling their pressure up top, keeping the ball moving, getting down the lane, being aggressive. We struggled there. Then our guys battled and fought there in the second half. We went 1 3 1 zone. I thought we got the ball inside a little bit more. But certainly their back court players I thought really, really played well and made some plays. I thought [DeAndre] Daniels from the power forward spot played really, really well tonight.”
Florida started the game up 7-0 and took an early 16-4 lead. Everything looked like it would go the Gators’ way. But after an 11-0 run and 27-6 scoring stretch spanning the half, UConn took the lead and maintained it for the duration of the contest.
Why did all of this occur? Pick your reason. UF shot .388 from the field and .100 from three, missed six free throws, got outrebounded, only registered three assists, turned the ball over 11 times and committed 14 fouls. Perhaps the greatest failure was Florida’s inability to simply put the ball in the basket for long stretches of time.
“On offense, we just couldn’t really get anything going. They were being really aggressive, and we couldn’t really get into our offense. We weren’t moving the ball as well. A couple of us were having bad shooting nights,” said senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin.
A couple of players did whatever they could to keep the Gators mentally in the game but were ultimately unsuccessful.
“I was just trying to get the guys just to stay in the moment and just keep pushing on from the past because we have been a team that’s come from behind a lot, especially late in the season,” senior center Patric Young said.
“I thought that if we just picked it up a little bit more, just forgot about how we were shooting and just locked in and focused, we could have it come again. We cut it down to three, and I thought we were there. We were going to be able to I think change the game, take the lead back. But UConn was very good with their pressure on our guards and we didn’t convert points. They scored a lot on us as well. So, all the credit goes to them.”
GRUESOME (POINT) GUARDS
Wilbekin had a bad game, certainly his worst of the season and arguably of his career as well (considering the moment), going 2-for-9 (0-for-3 from downtown) with one assist, three turnovers and four fouls. He was not alone, however, as freshman PG Kasey Hill also had a terrible performance, going 2-for-6 with two boards, no dimes, four turnovers and four fouls. UF had no chance with its two ball-handlers struggling.
“That’s crazy. That’s not usually what we do,” said an exasperated Wilbekin. “All credit goes to them and their guards and the way they were denying and putting pressure on us. We weren’t taking care of the ball. When we would get by them, we wouldn’t keep the ball tight and they would reach from behind. We were just being too loose with it.”
Donovan could empathize with Wilbekin. He too had a tough go of it when he led (6) Providence to the 1987 Final Four only to see his team fall 77-63 to (2) Syracuse due, in part, to his play. Though he did register seven assist in the contest, Donovan went 3-for-12 from the field and committed three fouls (turnover statistics were not recorded).
“I told Scottie this after the game: I went through the same thing in the Final Four that he just went through,” he explained. “When I was playing, so much of our team’s offense was based on the ball in my hands and making plays. I remember in my senior year playing against Sherman Douglas, I really struggled to do that.
“The difference in the game was Scottie Wilbekin couldn’t live in the lane like he had all year long for us. Every time we needed a big shot or a big play, whether against Arkansas or UCLA, he was in the lane. He had a really, really hard time getting in the lane, which inevitably made our offense very, very difficult. …
“When you see three assists, that’s a direct reflection of your guards. We would not be in this situation if it was not for Scottie Wilbekin. You just never want to see a guy in his senior year do all things that he’s done, you just wish he could have played and performed a little bit better for us. But if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be sitting up here right now.”
RETURN OF THE PAT
Not that Young went anywhere, but he certainly showed tremendous effort in the second half on Saturday by scoring 16 of his team-high 19 points over the latter portion of the game. Young accounted for more than half of Florida’s scoring in the final 20 minutes (31 points) and also gave tremendous effort on defense and when rebounding.
“Up front, even when I wasn’t getting the ball in the first half as much or wasn’t scoring as much, I was still able to put their bigs in foul trouble,” he said.
“I just felt as though in the second half, Coach challenged me just to be more dominant in the second half. Just when I was able to get the ball, I just was more aggressive, tried to make good reps, good shots to the basket. My teammates were just finding me. I just tried to make the right play whenever I could, and it turned out that I was able to do that for the most part.”
Sophomore guard Michael Frazier II opened the game by draining a three just 10 seconds into the contest. It looked like Florida’s woes from beyond the arc in the North Texas stadium were in the rear view mirror…until the Gators played the final 39:50 of the contest and were unable to make another three the rest of the game. UF finished 1-for-10 from downtown, in large part because UConn’s outstanding guard play limited Frazier to just three attempts on the evening.
“Going into the game, everyone knew how good of a deadly shooter Michael Frazier is. The guy made 11 threes early in the season against South Carolina. All the credit goes to their coach for putting … guys that are really quick and are going to get him out of rhythm,” Young explained.
“We found him early and he was aggressive, but it was really tough for us to find him an open look the rest of the game. So, that’s never what we want to happen for him. We want to get as many open threes as we can for him. But they just did such a great job him. We weren’t really running our offense the right way or as good as we have been all year long, so it was tough to find him, tough to find a lot of shots.”
The Gators are now 7-for-35 (.200) in the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium over the last two NCAA Tournaments.