Final Four: Florida-Connecticut preview capsule
GATORS HOOP SCOOP
No. 1 Florida vs No. 18 Connecticut
When: Saturday, 6:09 p.m. (ET) Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas Records: Florida 36-2; Connecticut 30-8 TV: CBS
History: Florida and UConn are meeting for the third time and the second time in four months. The Huskies defeated the Gators 65-64 on Dec. 2 at Storrs, Conn., when guard Shabazz Napier had the last two of his 26 points at the horn, handing UF its last defeat to date. The game will mark the second time Florida and UConn have met in the NCAA Tournament. The Gators beat the Huskies 69-60 in overtime of the Sweet 16 round of the 1994 NCAA Tournament en route to the first Final Four berth in school history.
Pre-game storyline: As if any explanation is even necessary, right? The winner advances to play either Wisconsin (30-7) or Kentucky (28-10) for the national championship Monday night.
ABOUT THE GATORS
It starts on the defensive end. The better the Gators play on that side of the court, the more opportunities they get in the open floor and eventually at the offensive end. UF is giving up just 54 points per game, 38.9-percent shooting, 24.3 from the 3-point line and has won all four of its NCAA games by double-digits. The Gators are scoring only 65 points per game in the postseason (down five from their season average), but shooting nearly 46 percent and 37.8 from the free-throw line. … UF coach Billy Donovan is 35-11 all-time in NCAA Tournament games — including 5-1 at the Final Four — for a career winning percentage of .761 that ranks second among the nation’s active coaches with at least 10 games. … Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin is averaging 15.3 points per game in the postseason and last weekend played a total of 73 minutes in the Sweet 16 win over UCLA and Elite Eight victory over Dayton without turning the ball over. … Senior center Patric Young has numbers in the postseason (10.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg) that practically mirror his for the entire season (10.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg). … Senior forward Casey Prather (13.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg) led the SEC in field-goal percentage this season at 60.3 percent, but is just 49 percent in the postseason. His 36 free throws are a team-high in tournament play and he’s shooting a solid 72.2 from the line.
ABOUT THE HUSKIES
They’re in the fifth Final Four in school history, having won the national championship three of the previous four times (1999, 2004 and 2011). … Kevin Ollie, who started at UConn in the early 1990s, is in his second season as coach since taking over last year for Hall-of-Famer Jim Calhoun. The Huskies were ineligible to play in the tournament last season, which speaks to how he’s rebuilt the program coming off NCAA academic progress sanctions. Ollie is 50-18 in two seasons. … UConn is led by senior guard Napier, a first-team All-American and Player of the Year in the American Athletic Conference. Napier, who scored 26 against the Gators in their December meeting at Storrs, averaged 19.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, shot 36 percent from the 3-point line and 90.1 percent from the free-throw line. He will take absolutely insane and guarded shots — and many will go in. He is exceptional in playing the passing lanes on defense. … Junior guard Ryan Boatright (12.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.4 apg) is a perfect wing man for Napier. The backcourt duo makes the Huskies a perimeter-driven team, especially with âstretchâ shooting forward Niels Giffey making 49.1 percent from the 3-point line. … Forward DeAndre Daniels (13 ppg, 5.9 rpg) is a far more polished and overall solid player than when the Gators faced him four months ago. He can score in the low post and shoot 3s (43.2 percent). It’ll be a bad sign if both Daniels and Napier are exceeding their scoring numbers.
* .833 – Florida’s winning percentage when ranked No. 1, based on a 26-5 record over the five times it’s been voted to the top of the Associated Press poll. The Gators rose to No. 1 on Feb. 24 and have gone 11-0 since.
* 1 – UF players other than Frazier and Wilbekin who have made a 3-point shot during the postseason. Dorian Finney-Smith has five on 22 attempts (just 22.7 percent). Aside from those three, the rest of the Gators are 0-for-11 from the arc.
* 2 – Made 3-point field goals by Frazier and Wilbekin during last year’s NCAA South Region at AT&T Stadium. Frazier went 2-for-3 in a win over Florida Gulf Coast in the Sweet 16, but attempted just one shot (a 2) in a 20-point loss to Michigan in the regional title game. Wilbekin went 4-for-17 in that regional, including 0-for-3 from 3.
* 23.3 – Napier’s scoring average during UConn’s four NCAA Tournament games. He’s made 14 of 31 shots from long distance (45.2 percent).
* 543 – Combined games played by Florida’s four-man senior class of Wilbekin, Young, Prather and Will Yeguete. Woven in that number is 265 combined starts.
WATCH FOR IT
Post touches for Young. They will be critical. Yes, Young was the Defensive Player in the SEC, not offensive player, but the Gators have a considerable size advantage on UConn in the front court and need to look to exploit it. The more activity inside, the more the Huskies must honor the post, thus leaving more options on the perimeter — ala Frazier and Wilbekin at the 3-point line, where together they’re 40-for-96 in the postseason (41.7 percent).