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UConn tops Florida to reach NCAA title game

Apr 6, 2014 - 4:01 AM Arlington, TX ( - Connecticut shook out of its shooting funk and Florida didn't. Connecticut shared the ball and Florida didn't.

The Huskies will play for the national championship and Florida won't.

DeAndre Daniels had 20 points and 10 rebounds, Shabazz Napier scored just 12 but contributed in other ways on a night when his offensive game took a long time to warm up, and Connecticut climbed out of an early hole Saturday night to beat Florida 63-53 and advance to the NCAA title game.

The Huskies, after trailing 16-4, led for the last 22:20 of the game to snap Florida's school-record 30-game winning streak, which began after the Gators lost to UConn on Napier's buzzer-beater all the way back on Dec. 2.

Napier and the Huskies will play for their second title in four years against Kentucky on Monday night. The Wildcats edged Wisconsin 74-73 in Saturday's second game at AT&T Stadium.

The Wildcats and Badgers are playing Saturday's second game at AT&T Stadium.

Ryan Boatright scored 13 points and Niels Giffey added 11 for UConn (31-8), which made it through the East Region as a No. 7 seed and is now just one win away from its fourth national title in 16 years.

"We feel like we have been doubted the whole season," said Daniels. "But that's what drives us. ... When people say that, we like to go out and try to prove people wrong and let them know that UConn's back on top."

Patric Young scored 19 points and Casey Prather had 15 to lead Florida (36-3), the tournament's No. 1 overall seed, while SEC player of the year Scottie Wilbekin scored just four points.

The three seniors played their last game together.

"I can't really explain how I feel because it just hasn't hit me ... that we're not going to be together in the same way again," said Young. "Who knows where we're going to be in a couple of months.

"This team was so special, something I'm never going to forget for all my life. We accomplished a lot ... so I'm just really going to cherish everything that we had this year and it's going to be something I'll never forget."

The Gators had three assists on each of their first two baskets during a 7-0 run to open the game and didn't get another one until there was just 4:09 left in the game.

They stretched their lead to 16-4 before a five-minute scoring drought let the Huskies end the first half on a 21-6 run.

"We got off to a good start because our defense was good," said Florida coach Billy Donovan, who led the Gators to NCAA titles in 2006 and 2007. "I thought once they got their defense set, we had a hard time handling their pressure."

UConn didn't score until five minutes into the game, after Daniels sliced into the lane.

Napier went even longer. The American Athletic Conference player of the year didn't take a shot until 6:13 in, a missed 3-ponter. He didn't score until knocking down a 3 from the high right side with 3:52 left in the first half.

In between, Daniels and Boatright knocked down consecutive 3s, Terrence Samuel scored on an end-to-end layup and Daniels hit another 3 in an 11-0 Huskies run that changed the tone of the game and got them within a point.

UConn took its first lead on a three-point play by Giffey and Daniels scored the last of his 10 first-half points on a turn-around jumper for a 25-22 lead at halftime.

The Huskies never trailed again. They shot 55.8 percent in the game -- 63.6 percent in the second half -- and held Florida under 39 percent.

Back in the tournament after serving a one-year postseason ban over academics, the Huskies made the final in the first year they were eligible to under Kevin Ollie, playing a half-court defense the coach said was meant to make Florida uncomfortable.

"We wanted to challenge every dribble, every pass," said Ollie, the first person other than Jim Calhoun to coach UConn in an NCAA Tournament game since 1979.

The Huskies needed Napier to turn it on in their first tournament game, an 89-81 win over Saint Joseph's in which the star guard scored 19 of his 24 points after halftime.

Not this time. Napier hit a 3 for a nine-point UConn lead two minutes into the second half but had plenty of help. Boatright gave the Huskies their first double-digit lead of the game with a layup after Napier checked out.

Later, Young made consecutive hook shots -- one with each hand -- to get the Gators within four and Prather's three-point play cut it to three with 9:12 remaining.

But Samuel sliced through the lane for a left-handed layup and Napier stole the ball from Wilbekin, leading to a layup for Boatright and a 47-40 UConn lead with under seven minutes remaining.

The Gators were never closer than six after that, while UConn's lead ballooned as high as 12.

"We have been through a lot of dogfights and we continue to believe in each other," said Napier. "We didn't point fingers when we were down. We just understood that this was ... going to be a game of runs. When we were down 16-4, we just looked at each other and said we got to put the pressure on, ante up, because this could be our last 40 minutes and we didn't want that."

Florida beat Albany, Pittsburgh, UCLA and Dayton by a modest 12.3 points per game to reach the Final Four after losing in the Elite Eight each of the past three seasons. The Gators pulled away in the second half in all but one of those games.

Against UConn, Wilbekin came out for several minutes early in the second half and said later he had cramped up a little bit. The TV broadcast showed a trainer working on the guard's thigh.

"I got some ice and then it wasn't really a problem," he said.

Game Notes

Calhoun led UConn to three national titles between 1999 and 2011 but stepped aside because of health problems prior to last season, allowing Ollie to take over ... The Huskies also beat Villanova, Iowa State and Michigan State to reach the Final Four. They are 10-2 in their last 12 games, with both losses coming against conference champion Louisville.