Pre-Final Four game preview: Florida
Here’s pre-game preview of the Final Four showdown between UConn and Florida:
-- Tip-off time: 6:09 p.m. (TBS)
-- Location: AT&T Stadium (80,000 capacity)
-- Records: Seventh-seeded UConn (30-8), top-seededFlorida (36-2)
-- Road to the Final Four: UConn beat Saint Joseph’s (89-81, OT), Villanova (77-65), Iowa State (81-76) and Michigan State (60-54)
Florida defeated Albany(67-55), Pittsburgh(61-45), UCLA (79-68), Dayton(62-52)
-- Probable starters: UConn, 6-1 sr. guard Shabazz Napier (18.1 pts, 5.9 rebs, 4.9 assists), 6-0 jr. guard Ryan Boatright (12.0 pts, 3.4 assists), 6-9 jr. forward DeAndre Daniels (13.0 pts, 5.9 rebs), 6-7 sr. forward Niels Giffey (8.3 pts, 3.8 rebs), 6-10 so. center Phil Nolan (3.5 pts, 2.4 rebs)
Florida, 6-2 sr. guard Scottie Wilbekin (13.4 pts, 3.7 assists), 6-4 so. guard Michael Frazier II (12.6 pts), 6-6 sr. forward Casey Prather (13.8 pts, 4.8 rebs), 6-8 sr. forward Will Yeguete (5.0 pts, 5.2 rebs), 6-9 sr. center Patric Young (10.8 pts, 6.2 rebs)
-- UConn is appearing in its fifth Final Four, third in the last six seasons. Florida is playing in its fifth Final Four and fourth under coach Billy Donovan.
“It’s a special feeling being in the Final Four,” coach Kevin Ollie said.
Both teams are 3-1 in national semifinals.
-- The Huskies are 4-1 in NCAA games in Texas, winning the 2004 title in San Antonio and 2011 crown in Houston.
-- Series tied 1-1, with UConn winning 65-64 on Dec. 2 in Storrs. Napier had 26 points and game-winning basket. The Gators have won school-record 30 straight since that loss.
“It definitely gives you the confidence to know that you can beat this team,” Giffey said. “But it has been awhile, and both teams have developed different characteristics throughout the tournament and the last part of the season. It’s going to be a different game.”
-- Florida played short-handed in the first meeting, but that won’t be the case tonight. Freshman guard Kasey Hill is available off the bench. Forward Chris Walker is another option.
The Huskies are a different team, too.
“They didn’t have that option when they played us last time,” Ollie said of Hill. “I don’t think I had the option of Terrence Samuel either, because he wasn’t playing a lot. Now I can put three point guards out there.
“So it’s a different game.”
-- Florida coach Billy Donovan on UConn: “It’s not a team where you look at them and say, well, if you can do a good job on one guy, you’re going to be in good shape.
"They really are a good team. And I think everybody here left playing has multiple ways to win games and certainly Connecticut’s no different.”
-- This is the fourth time that UConn has faced the No. 1 team in the country in the NCAA tournament. The Huskies beat Duke in the 1999 national title game and lost to both North Carolinain the 1998 Elite Eight and UCLA in 1995 Elite Eight.
-- Player to watch: Wilbekin, the Southeastern Conference player of year and member of conference’s defensive team, is averaging a team-best 16.8 points in the tourney.
The Wilbekin-Napier match-up should be fascinating to watch.
-- Top reserve: sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith (8.9 pts, 6.7 rebs) is the SEC sixth man of the year.
-- Florida’s stingy defense has allowed an average of 55 points in four NCAA games.
“Florida’s defense is good because they communicate as well,” Napier said. “I remember playing against them, and they did a heck of a job stopping our penetration and limiting our big guys’ touches, especially DeAndre.
" … They have some long and athletic guys that can disrupt a lot of shots and disrupt passes. When you have that as well as communication, you have a great defensive team.
“We are going to have to do our job of swinging the ball around as much as we can and try to be disruptive. It’s going to be tough.”
-- Hot: UConn is hitting 88 percent from foul line in four NCAA games. Cold: Giffey is shooting 33 percent (9-for-27) from the field in NCAA.
-- Daniels is on a scoring tear, hitting double figures in a career-high eight straight games. The Huskies will need another big game from him tonight.
“He’s starting to get that mindset and that moxie that I am the best player on the court every time I step out there,” Ollie said.
-- The Huskies are 36-8 in last 12 trips to tournament dating back to 1999.
-- Napier has been Mr. Big Shot all season. He’s averaging a team-best 23.3 points in the NCAA tournament.
“That first game he played great against us,” Florida's Michael Frazier II said. “He’s playing great in the NCAA tournament. … We’re going to have to play team defense to force him into tough shots.”
-- NHL players grow play-off beards. The Boston Red Sox had a band of bearded brothers during last year’s World Series run. Giffey also has joined the club.
“Personally, I feel he should cut it, but we are winning,” said teammate Phil Nolan. “Literally, the whole team said, `if we win the championship, we all want you to cut it.’ ”
-- UConn’s visit to AT&T Stadium in early January served as a motivational tool, according to Napier.
“It was definitely a motivational thing,” Napier said. “(Coach Ollie) wanted us to feel the atmosphere even though there was no one there besides us. … We realized once we got on the bus and talking with each other that we could do this if we work hard."
-- UConn will face its ninth ranked opponent in the last 11 games. The Huskies are 9-4 overall against top 25.
-- The winner plays either Kentucky or Wisconsin in Monday’s championship game.
The Huskies beat Kentucky, 56-55, in the 2011 national semifinals. They defeated Wisconsin, 76-57, in the 2008 Paradise Jam in the only meeting between the two schools.
-- Check back after the game for a post-game breakdown and video. Follow me on Twitter @GavinKeefe
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