John F. SilverWe all know that Florida hasn’t lost since Dec. 2, 30 games in a row. We also know who beat them, UConn on a last second shot by Napier.
A lot has changed in college basketball since that day and there are a lot of differences on the UConn team than the one who beat Florida.
From the marked improvement of Amida Brimah as a shot blocker, to the much-improved rebounding of the Huskies as a team to major turnover in rotations, the Huskies are a lot different than they were Dec. 2.
First off, take a look at the box score from the Dec. 2 game for UConn and a lot sticks out.
No. 1, Omar Calhoun started and played 15 minutes while Tyler Olander played 11 minutes and had five fouls. Those two, important players in 2012, have been vanquished to the end of the bench for much of this season. Calhoun struggled that game while Olander now is nothing more than a cameo. Ollie has essentially taken both out of the rotation for more versatile players.
That means more playing time for several players. On the wings, Niels Giffey — and his 50 percent 3-point shooting — is taking up a lot of that time while Lasan Kromah, a great on ball defender at the wing and decent scoring threat — are now manning the third wing. Terrence Samuel, who was a DNP-CD, has come in and played well of late when there’s been foul trouble, or if head coach Kevin Ollie wants to muck up the game with essentially three PGs in the game.
Giffey’s now a 30 minute a night player, and while he hasn’t shot the ball well for 3-point range in the NCAAs, is a player that has to be guarded.
The Huskies have also have become a much better defensive team, especially with Brimah manning the inside and Phil Nolan improved. UConn did a masterful job against Michigan State, holding the Spartans to a stunning six points in the paint. Against Villanova in the third round, the Huskies held the Wildcats to 14 points in the paint and only 7 of 20 from the 2-point area.
UConn was eaten up on the interior by Florida on Dec. 2, to the tune of 32 points in the paint with Patric Young doing a lot of the damage with 17 points. Florida shot 49 percent from the floor in the game — the Huskies hold teams to under 40 this season — and if it weren’t for 11 3-pointers and 24 points off turnovers — the Huskies wouldn’t have been close. Florida also beat up UConn on the boards, holding a 34-26 advantage. Brimah and Nolan played 28 insignificant minutes in the first game for UConn, but have been terrific defensively down the stretch this season.
For Florida, a lot has been made about their injuries and suspension, but in substance, it is the same team that played UConn on Dec.2 The only notable player playing a major role is Kasey Hill, who did not play in the first game. The Top 7 of the Gators all season were in action on Dec. 2
The Gators did lose Wilbekin for the final 3:01, but at the game and looking at the play-by-play, it didn’t seem like they missed him. Wilbekin went out with the Gators down two, they nearly rallied without him to win. The Gators scored on each of their last four possessions without Wilbekin in the final three minutes.
Here’s the play by play. If we get this in the national semifinal, it will be a game for the ages:
55-57 Ryan Boatright made Free Throw.
3:05 Scottie Wilbekin missed Jumper. 55-57
3:05 Casey Prather Offensive Rebound. 55-57
2:47 Patric Young made Jumper. 57-57
2:29 Foul on Michael Frazier II. 57-57
2:29 57-58 Amida Brimah made Free Throw.
2:29 57-58 Amida Brimah missed Free Throw.
2:29 Dorian Finney-Smith Defensive Rebound. 57-58
2:04 Will Yeguete missed Jumper. 57-58
2:04 Patric Young Offensive Rebound. 57-58
2:04 Patric Young made Two Point Tip Shot. 59-58
1:33 Foul on Patric Young. 59-58
1:33 59-58 Lasan Kromah missed Free Throw.
1:33 59-58 Connecticut Deadball Team Rebound.
1:33 59-59 Lasan Kromah made Free Throw.
1:18 Patric Young made Jumper. 61-59
1:18 61-59 Foul on Tyler Olander.
1:18 Patric Young made Free Throw. 62-59
1:12 Connecticut Timeout
1:09 62-59 Shabazz Napier missed Three Point Jumper.
1:09 62-59 Lasan Kromah Offensive Rebound.
0:50 62-59 Lasan Kromah missed Three Point Jumper.
0:50 62-59 Shabazz Napier Offensive Rebound.
0:34 62-62 Shabazz Napier made Three Point Jumper. Assisted by Ryan Boatright.
0:34 Foul on Dorian Finney-Smith. 62-62
0:34 Connecticut Timeout
0:34 62-63 Shabazz Napier made Free Throw.
0:19 Michael Frazier II made Layup. Assisted by Casey Prather. 64-63
0:18 Florida Timeout
0:01 64-63 Shabazz Napier missed Jumper.
0:01 64-63 Shabazz Napier Offensive Rebound.
0:01 64-65 Shabazz Napier made Jumper.
0:00 End of Game
What’s different this time around with Florida? They are better. Winning 30 games in a row and beating Kentucky three times requires cohesion that it didn’t have early in December with suspensions and injuries. While Chris Walker’s play has been disappointing (he was supposed to be the missing piece but is a bit player this year), the Gators have all the pieces with physical guards, a great defensive scheme and can shoot the 3-pointer. The physical play of Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II gave the Huskies fits in December and Ryan Boatright was only 2 of 8 while Napier struggled getting int the lane. The Huskies need another strong game out of DeAndre Daniels, who has proven to be an explosive scorer if he gets off the a first start.
Florida is pretty much the same team that UConn beat back in December, a great defensive team, incredibly strong with a lot of answers everywhere and a great player in Wilbekin.
UConn won’t have the home crowd in North Texas, and can’t count on a bounce of the ball late in the game to fall into Napier’s hands.
But, they do have Napier, and as we’ve seen this tournament, that’s enough most of the time.
Florida knows what it’s up against in the Huskies. They’ve already been a victim of Napier’s.
Will it happen again?