UConn vs. Florida Final Four Match-up: A Dogfight in Dallas
ARLINGTON, Texas– It seems like just yesterday that senior First Team All-American Shabazz Napier sank the game-winner against Florida that made a fired up Gampel Pavilion crowd erupt in Storrs, CT over the upset they had just witnessed that night.
Much has changed since then. Florida turned into a powerhouse, winning thirty straight and becoming the favorite to win the tournament. UConn experienced a solid season with their ups and downs before taking their turn toward success, including an appearance in the American Athletic Conference championship game, and now, a punched ticket to Dallas for their first Final Four since the 2011 championship team.
Now that the Huskies have gotten a feel for Dallas, it is time for them to set their focus on the next task at hand: A second shot to prove themselves against a seemingly unstoppable Florida team.
After their win against Michigan State University at UConn’s “third home” Madison Square Garden, Napier was asked to recall that December match up against the Gators.
“It was a dogfight,” he said. “A tough game, and it came down to one last shot. And I expect it to be the same, a dogfight.”
And what else would you expect against the number one team in the country? Last weekend they stopped a hot Dayton team in their tracks behind a 23 point effort from senior guard Scottie Wilbekin, winning it 62-52. Although the Flyers kept it close to start, the Gators were not going to let Dayton continue their upset streak, much to the relief of any brackets left across the board.
On the other hand, UConn has been making an exceptional tournament run, notching wins against top-seeded teams giving them the momentum they need to come out strong against the only number one seed left in the tournament.
If UConn wants to keep up with this unmatched Florida team, they must have two things going for them on Saturday night, the first of which being a consistent defensive presence for the full forty minutes of the game.
Overshadowed by the buzzer-beater of the previous time these two met is the amount of Florida turnovers that the Huskies forced with their defensive intensity, 16 to be exact.
“We were everywhere, we were helping each other, we were closing out right and we were rebounding the basketball,” junior guard Ryan Boatright said.
Boatright played outstanding defense this past weekend against Michigan State. He accomplished holding senior guard Keith Appling to just two points. If he can prevent a big night for Florida’s guards, that will put the Huskies in a good position to capitalize on the offensive end.
The Huskies also face a tough match up down low with Florida’s senior forward Patric Young, who is built like one of the Monstars from “Space Jam.” Freshman Amida Brimah and sophomore Phillip Nolan have come a long way defensively from the start of the post season up to this point. UConn cannot go deep in the post, so in order to ensure a solid lineup, Nolan and Brimah must stay out of foul trouble while switching on Young.
Finally, the Huskies need their X-factor, junior forward DeAndre Daniels, to step up and embrace his role as a scorer. March pulled Daniels out of his lull. He has been the player that the team has needed all year, and has demonstrated this at the perfect time. With Daniels contributing big numbers in points and rebounds, it makes UConn hard to beat.
“When he’s playing with effort and energy, he scores,” UConn Head Coach Kevin Ollie said. “If he [doesn’t] play with that activity, it kind of limits him.”
From the last time these two teams played each other, it is clear that Florida will come out this time a different team. Freshman guard Kasey Hill, a player who, according to Ollie, has great speed and an ability to make big plays, did not play that night. Wilbekin also did not play down the final stretch after he twisted his ankle on an offensive play. The Gators will look to use that two-guard lineup to their advantage this time around.
However, you can argue the same with UConn. They now have the resources to challenge Florida’s guards with their freshman guard Terrence Samuel, who has shown the poise of an experienced postseason player this tournament. Brimah has also developed as a more efficient player, not just blocking shots, but also adding some offense in the low post to his repertoire. Each of these factors will allow UConn to go a bit deeper into their bench, something that was not possible earlier this season.
“We’re a different team, and I’m a different coach,” Ollie said. “It’s gonna be a whole different game.”
That’s the bottom line, for both teams.
Whether or not it will come down to another game-winner is unpredictable, but this UConn team is going to try to defy the odds and shock the world one more time this weekend in Texas.