The 2014 NCAA tournament has not been short on upsets by any means, but the most notable one came on college basketball's biggest stage Saturday when No. 7 seed Connecticut beat top overall seed Florida, 63-53, in the Final Four in Arlington to advance to the championship game.
The Gators cruised out to a 16-4 lead in the opening minutes and looked poised to dominate throughout the game. But once the Huskies got their shots to fall, they were able to stifle the Gators offense and come back to grab a 25-22 halftime lead.
Out of the gates in the second half, UConn grabbed momentum in a big way by jumping out to a double-digit lead. Florida showed the heart it needed so many times throughout its 30-game win streak, but a hot Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright were just too much for the Gators, who struggled mightily on offense throughout.
Let's break down the biggest takeaways from the Huskies' 63-53 win.
DeAndre Daniels Is (Also) for Real
Going into Arlington, Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright had claimed plenty of attention for leading the Huskies on this improbable Final Four run.
But DeAndre Daniels' impact was often forgotten about, especially going into a matchup against Florida in which the Gators' size and talent advantage on the glass was supposed to reign supreme.
Daniels simply wasn't having any of that.
The 6'9" junior forward dominated the paint, finishing with 20 points and 10 rebounds—no other player in the game surpassed six boards. He hit clutch shot after clutch shot, driving the lane and pulling up en route to a 9-of-14 performance from the field.
In doing so, he became the first player to notch 20 points and 10 boards in a national semifinal since Carmelo Anthony in 2003, per ESPN Stats & Information:
Daniels went up against Florida's sizable frontcourt of Patric Young and Will Yeguete and passed the test with flying colors. He obviously needed the presence of guards Napier and Boatright to win the game, but without Daniels' big game in the inside, UConn doesn't stand a chance of advancing to the championship.
It's a Guard's Game, and the Gators Guards Were Vastly Outplayed
Few doubted that Florida's guards were in for a test they may not pass against Connecticut in Saturday's national semifinal. But with Daniels dominating the glass, the Gators needed big plays from guards Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II to give them an edge.
That didn't happen.
Wilbekin finished with just four points on the night, going 2-of-9 from the field and missing all of his three attempts from deep. Frazier hit a three-pointer in the opening minutes and didn't score for the rest of the game. Their offensive lethargy forced Casey Prather to play hero ball, and his 15 points wasn't enough.
Backup point guard Kasey Hill combined with Wilbekin to turn the ball over seven times, with Napier notching four steals and wreaking havoc on Florida's backcourt.
Wilbekin's ability to drive the lane and set up offense for his teammates—or himself—in clutch moments is what has gotten Florida over the hump so many times this season. That simply wasn't there against UConn on Saturday, and it's a big reason why the Gators are headed home.
One Florida Slip-Up Shouldn't Define Season, but Will
Ever since Florida was beaten by UConn at the buzzer in their Dec. 2 showdown, the Gators have been on a mission.
Florida went on to finish out its nonconference slate with wins over Kansas and Memphis. Then, it tore through an 18-game SEC slate before winning the conference tournament and cruising to the Final Four.
Some 30 wins later, it faced that same Huskies team again. And for the second time in two meetings, they got Florida's number—this time much more convincingly so.
Florida's 30-game win streak between losses to UConn was truly spectacular. In a season where no team other than Wichita State—which played a cupcake schedule—proved to be an elite team from start to finish, the Gators were constantly winners and didn't slip up once through an entire season slate.
For once, Wilbekin wasn't able to come up in the clutch. For once, the Gators weren't able to gut out a victory by leaning on their senior-laden squad and stiff defense.
But don't forget Florida's road to get there, because it will go down as one of the best feats of the 2013-14 college basketball season.
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