April 5, 2014 in Sports

Stakes higher this time around for UConn, Florida

Jim O’Connell Associated Press
 

ARLINGTON, Texas – The last time Florida lost there were still 23 shopping days until Christmas.

The Gators have won every game since that loss on Dec. 2 at Connecticut. The teams meet again today in the Final Four.

Connecticut, the seventh seed in the East Regional, has won nine of its last 11 with both losses to Louisville. That’s no 30-game winning streak, but it’s enough to have the Huskies two wins from a fourth national championship and the first under a coach other than Jim Calhoun.

Florida, the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed, is looking for its third national title, the first two coming in consecutive years under coach Billy Donovan.

Shabazz Napier hit a buzzer-beating jumper from the free throw line to give Connecticut (30-8) the 65-64 victory in Storrs, Conn., four months ago. The dramatic win didn’t exactly propel the Huskies as they lost three of their next five games.

Napier was named the American Athletic Conference player of the year and was a first-team All-America. He took advantage of a freak play to hand the Gators (36-2) one of their two losses – the other was to Wisconsin, another Final Four team.

“I was fortunate,” he said. “I put up a lousy shot and DeAndre tipped it back out and I was able to get off a great shot. I got a second chance and was fortunate enough to make it.”

Now Connecticut, just like that day before winter even started, has a second chance at Florida.

The Gators were different that day in that freshman guard Kasey Hill was out with an ankle injury and freshman forward Chris Walker was clearing up eligibility issues. Scottie Wilbekin, the do-everything guard who was chosen Southeastern Conference player of the year, was playing in his third game of the season after being suspended for the first four. He had 15 points but injured an ankle with 3:01 to play, was taken to the locker room and did not return.

Today’s meeting will be in front of 75,000 or so at AT&T Stadium. That’s a lot different than the 10,167 who packed Gampel Pavilion on Dec. 2.

“It’s a different game. That was four months ago,” Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie said.

“We’re a different team. I’m a different coach. Billy Donovan’s definitely got a better understanding of his team and what it takes for his team to win. So it’s going to be a whole different game.”

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