After falling behind 16-4 in the first 10 minutes, Niels Giffey
and UConn took the lead at the end of the first half and never trailed in the second half. (Getty)
Connecticut had already beaten No. 1 overall seed Florida once this season, back on Dec. 2 in Storrs, Conn., on a buzzer-beater by All-America guard Shabazz Napier.
The Huskies needed no such heroics this time.
After falling behind 16-4, UConn dominated the team that had won 30 straight games since that loss a little more than four months ago, ending the Gators' championship dreams with a 63-53 upset in the national semifinals at AT&T Stadium.
DeAndre Daniels scored 20 points and added 10 rebounds while Napier put up 12 points for the Huskies, who are one win away from their fourth national championship in 16 years. It would be their third in the state of Texas, after winning the 2004 title in San Antonio against Georgia Tech and the 2011 title against Butler in Houston.
For Florida's four senior starters -- Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete -- the season ends two wins short of their goal. These Gators did reach the Final Four after losing three straight years in the Elite Eight. At the start, it looked like they would have an easy time reaching Monday night's championship game. Florida got a three-pointer from Michael Frazier II, a jumper from Young and a shot from Prather for an early 7-0 lead, prompting a timeout from UConn head coach Kevin Ollie.
The Gators kept rolling, though, eventually extending the lead to 12 with 9:50 remaining in the first half. Daniels got the Huskies going with a pair of three-pointers during an 11-0 run that cut the deficit to one, and they went ahead for the first time a few minutes later on Niels Giffey's three-point play with 3:20 left before halftime. After a basket by Prather, Napier answered to put UConn ahead 23-22, and the Huskies wouldn't trail again.
A layup by Ryan Boatright with just more than 13 minutes left gave the Huskies their first double-digit advantage at 37-27. Florida pulled within three on multiple occasions, the last after two free throws by Young with 8:03 remaining, but UConn pushed the lead back to 10 at 51-41, with Daniels scoring the last two baskets in the run. Giffey's dunk put the Huskies ahead by 12, the largest deficit of the season for the Gators, and made the last 1:45 a formality.
SEC player of the year Scottie Wilbekin had just four points on 2-of-9 shooting from the floor while battling cramps and the constant pressure of Napier and Boatright. Frazier, the SEC's leading three-point shooter, didn't make another shot after his opening triple, which proved to be the only one of the game for the Gators. Young (19 points) and Prather (15 points) were the only Florida players to score more than seven points.
The Huskies, meanwhile, got better balance. In addition to Daniels and Napier, Boatright (13 points) and Giffey (11 points) scored in double figures for UConn, which shot 55.8 percent against what had been the nation's most efficient defense.
Ollie, in just his second season as Connecticut's head coach after taking over for Hall of Famer and mentor Jim Calhoun, has his alma mater in the national title game one year after missing the tournament because of a low APR score. The Huskies were the No. 7 seed in the East region but knocked off the No. 2 (Villanova
), No. 3 (Iowa State
) and No. 4 (Michigan State
) teams to reach their third Final Four in six seasons. After a win over the nation's No. 1 team, they are one win away from a most unexpected national championship.