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April 7, 2014

2013-2014 Postseason Superlatives

Florida's fifth run to a Final Four was full of records and memories and players that will not soon be forgotten in Gainesville. A 36-3 season, 21-0 in conference play and a school-record 30-game win streak means a lasting legacy. Before we move forward, ITG recaps the season with superlatives.

Best win: It's difficult to win in Rupp Arena or Thompson-Boling Arena as an opposing team. Florida went into both 20,000-plus-seat venues and knocked off two eventual NCAA Tournament teams within four days of each other in mid-February. This was also the point of the season where Scottie Wilbekin truly found his groove, notching 44 points during the two road contests. The Gators discarded of the Volunteers 67-58 before turning around and knocking off the Wildcats 69-59 on a rowdy Saturday night in Lexington.

Worst loss: Florida's historic 30-game win streak was bookended by losses to Connecticut. Both were painful in their own right, a buzzer-beater and an NCAA Tournament elimination, but nothing was worse than how the Gators bowed out of an otherwise remarkable season. They shot 38.8 percent and mustered a season-low 53 points in their national semifinal against the Huskies at the Final Four. Florida's two starting guards combined for seven points, and the Gators made just one 3-pointer for the first time since Feb. 20, 2010.

Biggest moment: They would have liked one more opportunity to stand in front of an O'Connell Center crowd as national champions at a celebration, but March 8 was still a fitting farewell for the senior class with the most wins in UF history. Florida defeated Kentucky - which will play for the national championship tonight - by 19 points on a day when three of the seniors scored in double figures and Will Yeguete had seven rebounds. After cutting the nets down and posing for endless pictures, the four seniors locked arms, lined up shoulder to shoulder and took their final step over the baseline and into the tunnel together.

Best scorer: Casey Prather finished with the team's highest average, but a lot of that was based on his work during non-conference play. Prather reached double figures in his first 18 games of the season but failed to do so in nine of his last 19 games of the season. During that time, it was Wilbekin who became Florida's most potent offensive player. When the Gators needed a big shot, they went to their senior point guard. As the only player on the floor who could consistently create for himself, Wilbekin became Florida's leading scorer. He scored 21 against Pittsburgh in the NCAA Tournament and 23 one week later against Dayton. The loss to UConn was his first game in single digits in more than one month.

Most surprising: Entering his senior season, Prather had 276 career points at Florida. By Jan. 25, he had 285 points on the season and was a fixture in the Gators' starting five. His transformation did not go unnoticed. Prather was named a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection and a Wooden Award All-American. His jump was more about understanding who he is as a player than an actual makeover. He became the slash specialist we'd seen hints of for three years.

Most disappointing: When a season ends with a 36-3 record and a handful of school records crushed, it's difficult to call anything disappointing. But the disappearance of 3-point specialist Michael Frazier II during much of the NCAA Tournament was a crushing blow to the Gators. Frazier was dynamite most of the year, highlighted by a 37-point night against South Carolina, but only came through in the NCAA Tournament against UCLA. In his other four games, he shot 28.6 percent (6 of 21) from beyond the arc. The Gators couldn't find ways to get Frazier open looks and the offense sputtered because of it.

MVP: SEC Player of the Year, South Region Most Outstanding Player, SEC Tournament MVP it's safe to say Wilbekin bounced back from the suspension that kept him away from the team last summer and off the floor for five games pretty well. Wilbekin proved to be one of the best point guards - offensively and defensively - in college basketball after working tirelessly on becoming more of a scoring threat all offseason. The road to regaining his team's respect was not easy, but Wilbekin was in complete control by the time the Gators' run heated up.

Most improved: He probably didn't drastically improve his draft stock and the numbers weren't much different from what he has put up the past couple years, but Patric Young was a different player in 2013-2014. The waning moments of the second UConn loss are the only proof you need. Young dove for loose balls and left his heart on the floor despite a likely insurmountable deficit. All season, he played with more motivation and purpose than ever and finally tuned out outside distractions.

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