ARLINGTON, Texas — Florida was supposed to be the team with the balanced scoring that would make it difficult for Connecticut to keep up if guard Shabazz Napier did not take the Huskies’ scoring load on his shoulders.
Except Connecticut forward DeAndre Daniels and guard Ryan Boatright made everyone check that logic in the first NCAA Final Four game on Saturday at AT&T Stadium.
Daniels ignited Connecticut in the first half, making two 3-pointers that helped the Huskies dig out of an early 16-4 hole. In the second half, Daniels did it from close range, throwing down dunks and making point-blank layups to lead the Huskies to a 63-53 victory.
Connecticut center Amida Brimah dished to Daniels for a dunk, Boatright threw an ally-oop pass that Daniels guided through the hoop and Napier threw another ally-oop pass that Daniels carefully caught before landing and putting in another layup.
Florida attempted to slow down Daniels with guard Scottie Wilbekin, a mismatch the Huskies recognized and used to their advantage.
“Wilbekin being 6-1, DeAndre being 6-9, we wanted to throw the ball high for DeAndre to get it,” Napier said. “DeAndre was making good catches and plays. When he didn’t have the ally-oop, he came down with it and finished it.”
And then the dagger.
Daniels pump-faked to get from the perimeter into the lane and then nailed a jumper that gave the Huskies a 10-point lead with 2:37 left. Florida would not recover.
Daniels finished with a game-high 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting from the field and grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds.
Boatright scored 13 points and Napier played the role of court general. He scored 12 points and had six assists and four steals.
From now until the championship game on Monday night, Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie will have an easier time getting people to believe his team has balance.
“I don’t know if y’all keep thinking it’s a one-man team, but it’s not,” Ollie said. “We have great players, but more important, we have great teammates. It’s a team game and they’ve invested in each other.”
Florida coach Billy Donovan credited the Huskies with taking away Florida’s ability to run its offense through Wilbekin.
“The difference in the game, Scottie Wilbekin couldn’t live in the lane like he could all year for us,” Donovan said. “He had a really hard time getting in the lane around Boatright and he couldn’t get around Napier. He couldn’t get off screens because their speed and quickness didn’t allow him to.”
Napier’s most impactful play came when Florida sliced the Connecticut lead to five midway through the second half. Napier picked Wilbekin’s pocket and passed ahead to Boatright for a layup, putting Connecticut ahead 47-40 with 6:54 left.
Meanwhile, the Huskies frustrated the Gators’ backcourt as Wilbekin and Michael Frazier combined for seven points on 3-for-12 shooting from the field.
“They’re just terrific shooters and great facilitators and we wanted to keep them out of the game,” Ollie said.
So Connecticut advances to play the winner of the late semifinal between Kentucky and Wisconsin. No doubt the Huskies will have convinced either one that they present plenty of headaches.
“We’ve been saying all year that we have a complete team,” Boatright said. “It’s not a one-man team. It’s not a two-man team.”
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