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April 4, 2014
Know Your Foe: Connecticut
For most Florida fans, Connecticut only accounts for one small negative memory. After all, the Gators and Huskies have rarely seen each other despite both carrying lengthy pasts. Because of that, ITG takes a glance at Connecticut ahead of Saturday's Final Four showdown.
Location: Storrs, Mansfield, Conn.
Enrollment: 22,595 (undergraduate)
Previous Final Four Appearances: 1999, 2004, 2009, 2011
National Championships: 1999, 2004, 2011
All-Time vs. Florida: 1-1
-- THE SHOT --
Florida and Connecticut obviously have fairly recent history with one another. On Dec. 2, the Gators led 64-63 as the seconds ticked down in Storrs and Shabazz Napier worked his way loose of a three-man trap. He lost his dribble momentarily, picked it back up and launched an off-balance prayer that bounced off the lower left corner of the backboard.
The Gators - with four frontcourt players in the game - crashed to the basket but the errant shot slammed off the board and briefly into the hand of DeAndre Daniels, whose somewhat incidental redirection led the ball back to Napier at the free-throw line. He released the ball with 0.4 seconds remaining. Only Casey Prather had recovered enough to come close to defending him. Florida has not lost since.
It was a lesson for the Gators they have carried throughout the season. Up by one with just seconds remaining against Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, a timeout was called. The UConn game as referenced. Don't let it happen again. It's the second shot that gets you, not the first.
-- GUARD PLAY --
Billy Donovan touted UConn's guards as some of the best in college basketball before these teams met in December. They've only gotten better since. Shabazz Napier is obviously the first to jump off the page and for good reason. This will be the second Final Four for a point guard who specializes in creating for himself and making big shots. His 18.1 points per game leads the Huskies by a wide margin and he is the key to stopping the Huskies. On Dec. 2, he had 26 points.
But don't let the focus on Napier take away from junior Ryan Boatright. Double figures in scoring have been reached by Boatright in every game at the NCAA Tournament and his defense has improved as the season has gone on as well. Against Michigan State in the Elite Eight, Boatright had four steals.
-- MAN ON FIRE --
UConn's two wins in the New York City Regional were due in large part to the big man who can go forgotten at times because of the obvious attention Napier and Boatright draw. All DeAndre Daniels did was string together 39 points and 18 rebounds over two games in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.
Daniels can attack inside but he is also dangerous as a stretch-four who teams have to watch from the perimeter when he's on. He's shooting 42.1 percent (8 of 19) from beyond the arc in the NCAA Tournament.
-- RESURGENCE --
When the NCAA Tournament started two weeks ago, the Huskies were no one's pick to be here. Most didn't expect them to make it anywhere near AT&T Stadium. Millions of people filled out brackets on Yahoo! Sports. Of them, 0.3 percent predicted Connecticut to make it to the Final Four.
By comparison, 49.2 percent picked Florida and 36 percent picked the Gators to win the national championship. There was good reason not to be high on UConn.
On March 8, the Huskies lost to the Louisville Cardinals … by 33 points. Florida hasn't trailed by more than 10 points in a game all season. Connecticut lost two games this season to NIT runner-up SMU and another to Houston (17-16).
-- KEVIN OLLIE --
Taking over for a legend is never easy but that's the task Kevin Ollie was given when Jim Calhoun retired in September 2012 and he was asked to move from assistant to head coach at his alma mater. Before the end of his first year, his one-year contract was extended through 2017-2018. Now in his second year at age 41, he is in the Final Four.
Ollie played 13 seasons in the National Basketball Association for 12 different teams before taking his first coaching job as an assistant at UConn in 2010. Because of an academic-related NCAA ban, the Huskies weren't allowed to take part in postseason play after a 20-10 season in 2012-2013. Ollie is 50-18 as a head coach.