Another game, another monumental win for the Connecticut Huskies.
Coming into the 2014 NCAA tournament as a No. 7 seed, few believed that UConn would make a run to the Sweet 16, much less the Final Four. Now the Huskies are one game away from winning the national championship after toppling Florida, 63-53, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
It was UConn's second victory this season over Florida, the NCAA tournament's top overall seed. The Huskies snapped the Gators' 30-game winning streak with this victory.
USA Today provided a look at the final score:
While Shabazz Napier has been the unchallenged leader for the Huskies throughout the NCAA tournament, junior DeAndre Daniels took over against Florida. The 6'9", 195-pound forward tallied 20 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Huskies in both categories.
Head coach Kevin Ollie spoke about his junior's breakout game on the big stage, via CBS Eye on College Basketball:
UConn's Kevin Ollie: "DeAndre was huge...when he plays with energy like this, he's unstoppable."— Eye on College BBall (@EyeOnCBB) April 6, 2014
During the postgame broadcast on TBS, Daniels said his performance was fueled by UConn going relatively unnoticed throughout its tournament run:
I just wanted to step up big time for my team. I spoke to [former UConn coach] Jim Calhoun yesterday and he said, "Man, nobody's talking about you." I said, "Don't worry, everybody's going to be talking about me after Saturday." I told him I'm going to go out there and play hard and give it my all.
... We wanted to come out here and prove everybody wrong because nobody gave us a shot to win this game.
The game started out on a great note for the Gators. After jumping out to a 7-0 lead in the early going, they claimed a 16-4 lead and were en route to a blowout victory 10 minutes into the game. Florida was not only crushing the Huskies offensively, but was smothering them with a full-court press.
That was where it all went wrong in the first half.
UConn finally broke through with a run of its own and got the score back to 16-15 in a two-minute span, then eventually took its first lead at 21-20 with 3:20 left in the first half. More importantly, the Huskies were cracking Florida's defense with relative ease, as John Werner of the Waco Tribune-Herald noted:
Tremendous comeback for the Huskies to tie the game at 20. They're starting to look really comfortable against Florida's defense.— John Werner (@JohnWernerTrib) April 5, 2014
The huge turnaround for UConn ultimately resulted in a total of just 22 points for Florida in the first half, the Gators' lowest of the season.
Doug Haller of azcentral.com and ESPN Stats & Info provided a look at some of the numbers behind the collapse by Florida at the end of the first half:
Connecticut out-scored Florida 21-6 over final 10 minutes of first half. Leads 25-22 at halftime.— Doug Haller (@DougHaller) April 5, 2014
Florida started 2-2 outside the paint but went 1-10 afterward, missing 7 straight to end the 1st half. #uconnvsflorida— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 5, 2014
The Gators' poor offense continued early in the second half as UConn continued to suffocate their experienced scorers. Both Daniels and Ryan Boatright were igniting the team as Napier took a backseat, allowing the juniors to shine.
With Napier drawing much of the attention from Florida defenders, Daniels took over in the paint to help UConn pull away for good.
Though they had already proven to be the better team, the Huskies then attempted to demoralize the Gators. A full-court pass to Niels Giffey gave UConn a 12-point lead with just under two minutes remaining, which marked the largest deficit for Florida all season, as March Madness TV noted:
This is the biggest deficit for the whole season for Florida; 61-51 with 1:57 left to play on TBS.— March Madness TV (@MarchMadnessTV) April 6, 2014
UConn wouldn't wind up by winning by the 12-point margin, but handed the Gators just their third loss of the season—two of which came against the Huskies.
After the game, UConn fans didn't waste any time celebrating the momentous victory:
With the victory, Ollie has reached the championship game in just his second year of coaching and first NCAA tournament. Jason Horowitz of Westwood One Sports pointed out just how rare of a feat that is:
While Ollie is making history, so too are the Huskies. Jerry Palm of CBS and Darren Rovell of ESPN noted that the Huskies' run could be the first of its kind:
UConn will be the first 7-seed to play for the title. And they may get to wear white.— Jerry Palm (@jppalmCBS) April 6, 2014
UConn trying to become only the 2nd champ seeded 7th or higher to win it all. Villanova was a #8 seed in 1985— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) April 5, 2014
Will UConn win the national championship?
UConn now moves on to face another daunting task against either No. 8 Kentucky or No. 2 Wisconsin. Much like UConn, the Wildcats weren't expected to get to this point, but have an elite talent in Julius Randle along with great players like James Young and Aaron and Andrew Harrison.
If UConn has to match up with Wisconsin, the threat of Frank Kaminsky looms large. The 7'0", 234-pound junior can find his shot anywhere on the court and has already dashed the hopes of a No. 1 seed in Arizona.
With the run that the Huskies have already put together, discount UConn's chances of winning the title at your own risk.
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