March Madness 2014: Florida's Blueprint to Beat UConn in the Final Four
The Florida Gators have lived up to expectations so far in their 2014 March Madness run, cruising to four straight double-digit wins as the No. 1 overall seed. Now that they’ve made the Final Four, though, they face their toughest test of the year: a rematch with the UConn team that beat them in Storrs in December.
If the Gators want to get revenge for that last-second defeat, one key factor will be keeping the Huskies’ vaunted long-range shooting in check. UConn hit 11 of its 24 treys in the first meeting, and a similarly strong performance in Arlington, Texas on Saturday will likely set up another win for the underdogs.
Read on for more on the challenge of handling UConn’s marksmen, along with four more steps that Florida must follow to avoid a painful upset and advance to the national championship game Monday.
Pound the Glass
Florida is coming off an overwhelming 37-26 rebounding win in the Elite Eight rout of Dayton. The Gators haven’t necessarily owned the boards like that over the course of the season, but they have to concentrate on doing so Saturday night.
UConn, with its long but lean forwards, has been an opportunistic rebounding team, but it can’t match the experience or toughness of Patric Young and Will Yeguete in the paint. The former, accurately enough, was described by ESPN's Doug Gottlieb as "the after picture for any weightlifting program."
If those veterans box out hard and if Michael Frazier II (3.5 rebounds per game on the year) and the guards hustle for the long rebounds against the high-energy Huskies guards, Florida should be able to cut off the flow of second-chance points for UConn and maybe even score a few of its own.
Close out on Three-Point Shooters
Even after a disastrous Elite Eight showing against Michigan State, UConn is shooting an even 40 percent from beyond the arc in the tournament.
In half-court situations, cutting off that key source of points will mostly involve knowing when to concede a Shabazz Napier drive rather than leaving a shooter open in the corner.
However, the bigger concern is transition opportunities for the Huskies—including after they’ve broken Florida’s press, which they will do with appreciable frequency—because the Gators must be ready to stop the quick-release three-ball.
That’s especially imperative for Will Yeguete, who’s likely to draw the thankless job of chasing DeAndre Daniels for most of the night.
Play with Patience on Offense
When these teams met in Storrs in December, UConn thrived on a ragged, up-and-down pace that helped the Huskies force 16 turnovers from the scrambling Gators.
Florida’s half-court offense has been staggeringly efficient in the tournament, and that’s the version of the Gators attack that must show up on Saturday.
Although that effort starts with point guard Scottie Wilbekin, he’s not the only one who needs to keep his cool.
Freshman Kasey Hill (out with an ankle injury for the first meeting) will need to be ready for the quick hands of the Huskies guards, while high-scoring forwards Casey Prather and Dorian Finney-Smith must learn from a dreadful first meeting in which they combined for 11 giveaways.
Don’t Get Psyched out
Barring a huge surprise, this game is going to come down to the last couple of possessions. Once that happens, Florida will have an abundance of reasons to beat itself before the Huskies do.
After all, the Gators the championship favorites (making them apt to tighten up), playing a team that appears to be making a carbon copy of the 2011 national title run (which included Shabazz Napier, who has played a central role in every tournament win so far) and who has already beaten Florida with one game-winning shot this season.
After the first game, even Billy Donovan had to acknowledge in the press conference that "[Napier is] a big shot-making guy." For all that, the Gators have to keep in mind that none of his past heroics can affect a future play—unless Florida lets them.
SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin has played brilliantly in the postseason, beating both Pitt and Dayton almost single-handedly with 20-plus point nights.
There’s going to be a strong temptation for him to get into a one-on-one contest with Shabazz Napier down the stretch, and if he does, he will lose.
The other four Gators around Wilbekin are better as a group than the four Huskies supporting Napier. It’s imperative that Wilbekin keep his teammates involved on both ends, because as well as he’s playing right now, he’s still not equipped to beat Napier in crunch time.