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April 6, 2014
Notebook: Amazing season comes to an end
ARLINGTON, Texas - It felt a lot like the final scene of the Green Mile.
There were tears, sniffles, quivered lips and seconds of silence.
It was the end for a special group of seniors, but not the ending they'd dreamed of - or believed would happen just one week ago.
But destiny was a dud.
Top-seeded Florida, winners of 30-straight games and the darlings of the NCAA Tournament, fell to disrespected seventh-seeded Connecticut 63-53 in a stunner in the Final Four on Saturday.
"It's really tough," center Patric Young said. "I can't really explain how I feel because it just hasn't hit me. These guys right next to me, guys in the locker room, we're not going to be together in the same way again. … This team was so special, something I'm never going to forget."
"Chasing greatness" was Florida's motto all season, but Saturday night in AT&T Stadium the Gators just chased around UConn's speedy guards and wondered 'What if?'
The Huskies frustrated Florida with their quickness and active hands, as UF delivered its worst offensive performance on the worst possible night. Senior leader Scottie Wilbekin, UF's Superman all year long, finished his career on a bittersweet note, as the point guard struggled with cramping and minimal space to work with.
"I told Scottie after the game, I went through the same thing in the Final Four," Florida coach Billy Donovan explained. "When I was playing, so much of our team's offense was based on the ball in my hands and making plays. ... Difference in the game was Scottie couldn't live in the lane like he had all year long for us."
The Gators labored for large stretches Saturday night, their pick-and-roll attack stagnant and inept -- aside from a 16-4 sprint to open the game. Worse, Florida's offensive woes infected its defensive effort and poise. In a game with little fluidity or flow -- fueled by UConn's (underrated) defensive passion and physicality -- the Gators lost a trench-war. The Huskies pummeled the Gators with their own game plan - and a "nobody believes in us attitude." "We have been through a lot of dogfights," All-American point guard Shabazz Napier said. "We didn't point fingers when we were down. We just said we got to put the pressure on, ante up."
BY THE NUMBERS
56.5 - Casey Prather (15 points on 6-of-10 shooting) and Patric Young (season-high 19 points) combined to shoot 56.5 percent, while the rest of the team shot a scary 23 percent.
12 - Florida's largest deficit this season. The Gators trailed by 10 (or more) points for just the third time all year.
22, 3, 1 - The Gators scored a season-low 22 first-half points. Florida's three assists and lone 3-pointer all marked 2013-14 lows.
8:14 - Connecticut scored just four points in the game's first eight-plus minutes before sprinting on a 16-4 run to take the lead.
3 - Wilbekin's number of turnovers in 34 minutes of action -- this after playing 73 minutes without a turnover in UF's wins over UCLA and Dayton.
17:29 - Florida went on a 17:29 field goal scoreless draught by anyone not named Casey Prather.
0 - Kasey Hill assists. Florida's freshman point guard (frazzled and overwhelmed all evening) tallied a goose-egg in the assist column after leading the team (15) over the first four tournament games.
"I'm hurt. It just hurts to lose, especially at this point in time," Hill said. "It was just one of those games. I should've stepped up and it just didn't happen."
39 vs. 15 - Combined stats [points, assists and steals] of UConn guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright versus Wilbekin and Hill.
2 - Made field goals in two games against UConn by UF forward Dorian Finney-Smith.
QUICKESS & STRENGTH
UConn's guards proved too quick for Florida, but the Huskies also won the match-up inside despite the Gators' size and power.
Florida physically dominated Connecticut on Dec. 2, outscoring the Huskies 32-14 in the paint with a plus-eight margin on the glass.
Saturday night was a role reversal.
UConn entered the match-up as a sub-200 rebounding team nationally, but Florida was outrebounded (28-27) and outscored (36-24) in the paint.
Napier was teased as the best remaining player in the tournament, but teammate DeAndre Daniels proved to the be Florida's matchup nightmare Saturday evening.
UConn's forward sliced the Gators' 1-3-1 zone for a game-high 20 points and 10 rebounds, as Florida's usually-stifling defense was no match for the junior's versatility. Daniels scored on lobs, lay-ups and 3-pointers, with Gators forward Finney-Smith acknowledging the junior caused problems in cross-matchups (i.e: 1-on-1 versus Wilbekin and Hill).
ALUMNI IN THE HOUSE
Ex-Gators forward Chandler Parsons, a former SEC Player of the Year, was in attendance, along with Houston Rockets teammate Dwight Howard. Both players spent much of the second half rooting for Florida in the school's Rowdy Reptiles student section. Other Gators alums in AT&T Stadium included Matt Bonner, Jason Williams and Chris Richard.
Meanwhile, former Florida coach Lon Kruger, the first coach to lead UF to the Final Four in 1994, sat courtside Saturday.
"It's interesting. If [we'd] won the next two games people probably would've talked about this team as one of the best team in basketball history, but we just ran into a bad night. ... It's not like we shot it great all tournament. It could have happened at any point in this tournament. It could've happened at Albany, against Pittsburgh. Could've happened against UCLA or Dayton, it just so happened it happened tonight. Guys will beat themselves up, but what an unbelievable year." -- Gators assistant coach Matt McCall
THIS & THAT Florida sold-out its entire allotment of 3,250 tickets. … UF became the fourth team since 1978-79 to enter the Final Four with a winning streak of 30-plus games and not win a national title. … Donovan moved to 3-1 all-time in Final Four games.