At the start it was all Florida. Michael Frazier hit the first bucket of the game and the Gators roared to a 16-4 lead. It looked like Florida had the game under control from the get-go and might run off and hide.
But UConn kept playing solid defense and despite neither team doing much over the next 10 minutes, the Huskies chipped away eventually tying the game and taking a 25-22 halftime lead.
Frazier’s three to start the game was Florida's only one of the half. They shot a miserable 34 percent overall and 1-7 from beyond the arc. It was their lowest point production in the first half all year. Their previous low was 23 against Fresno State.
“We didn’t get the ball enough to Michael (Frazier) in the first half,” Will Yeguete said after the game.
It would be hard to not say the conditions were not good for either team offensively. UConn’s 25 points in the first half wasn’t much and the Gators' 22 was considerably less than their season average. Florida averaged about 46 percent shooting all season long but could only come up with one out of every three shots through 30 minutes of the semifinal against the Huskies.
It’s a funny venue when you put a basketball court in the middle of one of the largest football stadiums in the country. The poor shooting by both teams seemed to bear that out. UConn did shoot 47 percent in the first half, helped by 4-7 from beyond the arc.
“I’m not focused on my individual performance,” Scottie Wilbekin said in front of his locker. “I could have played better but I’m sad about this team not getting to where we wanted to go.”
While Florida is deeper and more athletic than UConn, the Huskies were able to penetrate from the perimeter and use a solid inside passing game to get some easy second half buckets.
After the under 12 minute TV time out, it was clear Billy Donovan wanted the ball inside to Patric Young. So on back-to-back possessions, Young scored on mini hooks. He hit two free-throws on the next trip down the court to pull Florida within 3, 43-40. But the next two trips down the floor ended up with turnovers and easy layups for the Huskies building the lead back to seven. A wild shot by Wilbekin ended up as an easy lay-in on the other end and just like that the lead was up to 10.
“We wanted to pound the ball inside with their big guys having some foul trouble,” Young explained about the second strategy. “I was able to make a few shots but we needed more energy, more defensive pressure, more offense. They were the better team.”
On this night, UConn certainly was. After their initial run, Florida seemed awkward and out of sorts for the rest of the game. Credit the Huskies with stepping up their defensive game.
“We wanted to be disruptive to everything they did,” UConn’s coach Kevin Ollie said afterwards. “Every dribble, every pass, every possession. We wanted to make them uncomfortable.” And they certainly accomplished that, forcing Wilbekin to one side of the court and limiting the touches Frazier had,
“It’s a one and done deal,” Casey Prather lamented. “And we didn’t get it done. It’s tough.”