UConn Knocks Off Number-One Seeded Florida 63-53
ARLINGTON, Texas– They did it once and they did it again.
The University of Connecticut Huskies pulled off the biggest upset of their tournament journey thus far, not only beating Florida, but also beating them by double digits, ending their thirty-game win streak and their road to the national championship.
If you watched the first few minutes of this game, you might have thought that Florida would cruise to the final round.
Then UConn decided it was time to wake up.
After getting off to a slow start and allowing Florida to stretch their lead to twelve points, back-to-back three-point shots from DeAndre Daniels and Ryan Boatright sparked an 11-0 run form the Huskies.
“When he knocked down that three, the fans went crazy, and then we understood what was going to happen next,” senior Shabazz Napier said on Daniels’ first shot of the run.
A Niels Giffey layup tied the game at 20 with 3:18 remaining in the half, and from there, the Huskies never looked back.
They finished the first half with a three-point lead. Meanwhile, Florida headed to the locker room with their lowest point total of the season in the first half.
The game stayed close throughout most of the second half. UConn’s bigs Amida Brimah and Phillip Nolan found themselves in foul trouble mid-way, prompting an appearance from senior Tyler Olander who also picked up two quick fouls. Without their presence, Florida’s Patric Young (19 points, 5 rebounds) took advantage and went to work in the post, keeping the Gators on their tails.
Despite Young wreaking havoc down low, UConn decided to go with a small lineup, featuring freshman guard Terrence Samuel, Napier, Boatright, Giffey, and Daniels. Thanks to the strong defensive effort up top led by Boatright, this actually worked.
“On offense, we just couldn’t really get anything going,” Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin said. “They were just being really aggressive and we couldn’t really get into our offense.”
Wilbekin was held to just four points.
“I tried to be the emotional leader on the defensive end,” Boatright said, who has posted incredible performances on defense this tournament. He also chipped in 13 points and 6 rebounds.
Down the stretch, the Huskies played with poise, slowing it down on offense and most importantly, finishing from the line in the final minutes.
The one thing you might be thinking here is, “Where was Napier?” He did not have a 20-point night, but he instead played the role of the distributor, dishing out six assists and getting things done quietly with 12 points.
“At the end of the day, all the other guys were playing well. Hats off to them,” he said regarding his teammates.
But this is what Head Coach Kevin Ollie has been stressing all season long: UConn is a complete team.
This was evident tonight seeing four players score in double figures, including an 11-point performance from Giffey, who was ice cold from three-point land, but red-hot driving the lane.
However, when it comes down to it, the clear factor in this game was the defensive effort that took place on the court. By keeping players like Wilbekin, Kasey Hill out of the double-digits in scoring, it gave UConn the opportunities they needed to knock their shots down on the offensive end.
As the clock wound down and the final buzzer sounded, it had become a reality that seventh-seeded UConn proved victorious over the top-ranked Florida. Sure, they had done it before, but that previous win against Florida had been questioned all week.
“When people say that, we like to go out and try to prove people wrong and let them know that UConn’s back on top,” Daniels said.
Now the Huskies are set to play the winner of Kentucky vs. Wisconsin for a shot at the national championship, a dream come true for the team who was banned from the tournament just last season.
“I keep saying the bigger the problem, the bigger the destiny,” Ollie said. “We knew this destiny was coming, because our problems that we faced, we overcame them together.”
So let the season continue for UConn as they near the end of the road.
“One more; it is not over yet,” Napier said. “One more. We believe in each other, we have faith in each other, and we have just one more to go.”
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