March 30, 2014

North Texas Final Four: Gators strong, 3 others peak at right time

These programs survived their corner of the NCAA bracket, advanced to championship weekend

1. Florida Gators (36-2)

Location: Gainesville, Fla.

Enrollment: 29,984

Famous alumni: Fox Sports reporter Erin Andrews, distance runner Frank Shorter, New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner

Previous Final Fours: 1994, 2000, ’06, ’07

National titles: 2006, ’07


Class Position Name Ht., Wt. Key stats
Sophomore Guard Michael Frazier II 6-4, 199 12.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg
Senior Guard Scottie Wilbekin 6-2, 176 13.4 ppg., 3.7 apg
Senior Forward Casey Prather 6-6, 212 13.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg
Senior Forward Will Yeguete 6-8, 230 5 ppg, 5.2 rpg
Senior Center Patric Young 6-9, 240 10.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg

How they got here

Second round: Albany, 67-55. Florida looked sluggish against No. 16 seed Albany but was able to pull out a win. Dorian Finney-Smith gave the Gators a lift off the bench, scoring 16 points to help send his team to the next round.

Third round: Pitt, 61-45. The Gators flashed their regular-season dominance and eased concern after their lackluster first game against Albany. Florida led by just five at halftime but cruised in the second half to make the Sweet 16 for a fourth straight year.

South semifinal: UCLA, 79-68. Michael Frazier II heated up from 3-point range, draining five 3-pointers, and finished with 19 points to lead the Gators into the Elite Eight. Florida showed tremendous offensive balance against the Bruins and made 50 percent of its shots.

South final: Dayton, 62-52. The Gators dispatched the lowest-seeded team remaining in No. 11 Dayton to extend their winning streak to a program-best 30 games and reach the Final Four for the first time since 2007. Florida is the lone No. 1 seed to reach the Final Four this season.

About coach Billy Donovan: Donovan, who played in the NBA with the New York Knicks, has racked up an impressive .721 winning percentage (485-188 overall and 450-168 at Florida) as a college head coach. He is trying to win his third national championship with the Gators, who went back-to-back in 2006-07.

Top player: G Scottie Wilbekin (Sr.) While Florida has several scoring threats, Wilbekin sets the tone. Wilbekin scored 23 points in the Gators’ 10-point win against Dayton in the Elite Eight and is Florida’s go-to player when the game is on the line.

Outlook: Florida was the favorite entering the NCAA Tournament and hasn’t disappointed yet. But the Gators may have drawn a tough matchup in the Final Four in UConn, the last team to defeat Florida back on Dec. 2. The Huskies needed a buzzer-beater to win at home, but the victory should give UConn confidence. Florida has experience on its side, however, with four senior starters.

2. Wisconsin Badgers (30-7)

Location: Madison, Wis.

Enrollment: 27,892

Famous alumni: Actress Joan Cusack, singer Steve Miller, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, former vice president Dick Cheney

Previous Final Fours: 1941, 2000

National titles: 1941


Class Position Name Ht., Wt. Key stats
Senior Guard Ben Brust 6-1, 196 12.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg
Junior Guard Josh Gasser 6-3, 190 8.9 ppg, 4 rpg
Junior Guard Traevon Jackson 6-2, 208 10.7 ppg, 4 apg
Sophomore Forward Sam Dekker 6-8, 220 12.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg
Junior Forward Frank Kaminsky 7-0, 234 14.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg

How they got here

Second round: American, 75-35. There was no chance for No. 15 seed American against the No. 2 Badgers. Wisconsin guard Ben Brust scored 17 points, and the Badgers rolled to a blowout in the second half.

Third round: Oregon, 85-77. Brust came up big again, hitting a huge 3 with a minute left to help Wisconsin erase a 12-point halftime deficit to top the Ducks. Oregon had a chance to tie the game late, but the Badgers’ defense was able to hold on for the win.

West semifinal: Baylor, 69-52. Wisconsin had no trouble carving up Baylor’s zone defense as the Badgers grabbed a 14-point lead early and didn’t look back. Frank Kaminsky scored 19 points to lead Wisconsin.

West final: Arizona, 64-63 (OT). Wisconsin gave its fans a thrilling Elite Eight show in beating Arizona, the No. 1 seed in the West. The Wildcats had a shot to win the game with less than two seconds, but Wisconsin’s defense held strong.

About coach Bo Ryan: The Final Four is special for Ryan (704-223 overall and 321-120 at Wisconsin). Ryan had a tradition of attending the Final Four with his father every year since 1976. Ryan’s father died in August, and now Ryan will take his team to Arlington for this year’s Final Four, his first as a head coach.

Top player: F Frank Kaminsky (Jr.) Kaminsky stands at 7 feet tall, but his talent isn’t limited to the post. Kaminsky is one of several Wisconsin sharpshooters and is a danger from 3-point range. He has made 37 from behind the arc this season, including making 3 of 5 as part of 28 points against Arizona in the Elite Eight.

Outlook: The Badgers skidded through the middle of their Big Ten schedule but have found momentum at the right point in the season. Wisconsin has won 13 of its last 15 games, and the Badgers create nightmare matchups when Kaminsky and Co. are hitting long-range shots.

7. Connecticut Huskies (30-8)

Location: Storrs, Conn.

Enrollment: 16,587

Famous alumni: Comedian Bobby Moynihan

Previous Final Fours: 1999, 2004, ’09, ’11

National titles: 1999, 2004, ’11


Class Position Name Ht., Wt. Key stats
Junior Guard Ryan Boatright 6-0, 168 12.1 ppg, 3.4 apg
Senior Guard Shabazz Napier 6-1, 180 17.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg
Junior Forward DeAndre Daniels 6-9, 195 13 ppg, 5.8 rpg
Senior Forward Niels Giffey 6-7, 204 8.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg
Sophomore Forward Phillip Nolan 6-10, 212 3.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg

How they got here

Second round: St. Joe’s, 89-81 (OT). Shabazz Napier scored nine of his 24 points in overtime as UConn narrowly avoided being upset in the NCAA Tournament debut for Huskies coach Kevin Ollie. UConn had trailed at halftime, and Napier missed a potential game-winner at the end of regulation.

Third round: Villanova, 77-65. Napier led the way again with 25 points as the Huskies knocked off the No. 2 seed Wildcats with a strong second-half surge. UConn kept Villanova from finding offensive rhythm; the Wildcats, known for their deadly shooting range, went just 35 percent from the field.

East semifinal: Iowa State, 81-76. DeAndre Daniels made his first six shots after halftime to help UConn get past an Iowa State team that had picked up momentum after winning the Big 12 tournament. But Daniels and the Huskies were able to hang on through a rough start to the second half after grabbing a 10-point lead at halftime.

East final: Michigan State, 60-54. It appeared Michigan State had control, but Napier put in 17 points in the second half (finishing with 25) to lead a stunning comeback. The Spartans had been a popular national champion pick, but Napier carried the Huskies to the win, including three crucial free throws in the final minute after getting fouled on a 3-point attempt.

About coach Kevin Ollie: Ollie wasted little time in making a tremendous impact for UConn, where he played from 1991-95. Ollie has the Huskies back in the Final Four in just his second year as the team’s coach (UConn was ineligible for postseason play last season) and already has a 50-18 record for a .735 winning percentage. Ollie, who played for 13 seasons in the NBA with 12 different teams, was born in Dallas, which was also his first stop as an NBA player.

Top player: G Shabazz Napier (Sr.) Napier is the clear UConn leader, scoring nearly 18 points per game. As he did against Michigan State in the Elite Eight, Napier can take over a game, especially when the rest of UConn’s offense is struggling. Napier, who will have a future in the NBA, is an All-American and stayed for his senior season to help UConn return to championship weekend.

Outlook: UConn is on a roll. While the Huskies weren’t really talked about heading into the tournament — and didn’t impress when squeaking out an overtime win against St. Joe’s in the second round — UConn is hot now. And the Huskies have proven they can win close games. And don’t forget that it was Napier who hit the step-back game-winner against Florida on Dec. 2 in Storrs. The rematch between the Gators and Huskies should provide plenty of hype.

8. Kentucky Wildcats (28-10)

Location: Lexington, Ky.

Enrollment: 19,109

Famous alumni: Actress Ashley Judd, NBA coach Frank Vogel, drummer Glenn Kotche

Previous Final Fours: 1942, ’48, ’49, ’51, ’58, ’66, ’75, ’78, ’84, ’93, ’96, ’97, ’98, 2011, ’12

National titles: 1948, ’49, ’51, ’58, ’78, ’96, ’98, 2012


Class Position Name Ht., Wt. Key stats
Freshman Guard Aaron Harrison 6-6, 218 14.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg
Freshman Guard Andrew Harrison 6-6, 215 11.1 ppg, 3.9 apg
Freshman Guard James Young 6-6, 215 14.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg
Freshman Forward Julius Randle 6-9, 250 15.1 ppg, 10.7 rpg
Freshman Center Dakari Johnson 7-0, 265 5 ppg, 3.9 rpg

How they got here

Second round: Kansas State, 56-49. Freshman Julius Randle had a monster double-double with 19 points and 15 rebounds, and Kentucky made a statement right away in the NCAA Tournament with a solid win against a tough Kansas State team. Kentucky’s defensive length gave Kansas State problems — Kentucky held Kansas State below 50 points for the first time this season.

Third round: Wichita State, 78-76. Kentucky, the No. 8 seed, made the No. 1 Shockers the first top seed out of the tournament. The Wildcats had to mount a second-half comeback and then watch as Wichita State missed a potential game-winner at the buzzer.

Midwest semifinal: Lousiville, 74-69. In a close battle against an in-state rival, Kentucky beat the defending champs. Aaron Harrison hit a big 3-pointer late, and Randle iced the game on the free-throw line as the Wildcats proved again they are deadly in close games.

Midwest Final: Michigan, 75-72. Michigan shot a half-court heave to win the game, but the ball sailed wide and Kentucky pulled out another thriller. Randle again led the way with 16 points and 11 rebounds as the Wildcats earned a spot against Wisconsin in the Final Four.

About coach John Calipari: Calipari has made a home in the Final Four. He now has a 552-172 overall record as a head coach, including 150-36 since taking over at Kentucky in 2009. Calipari, who also led UMass and Memphis to the Final Four, is making his fourth Final Four appearance.

Top player: F Julius Randle (Fr.) Randle has been impressive all season long, but he has elevated his play and his teammates in the NCAA Tournament, making quality plays game after game. Randle, a sure lottery pick in the NBA if he leaves after this season, has the size and skill to dominate opposing defenses.

Texas ties: The Harrison twins, Aaron and Andrew, played together at Travis High School in Richmond, on the outskirts of Houston. The two led Travis to a state championship in their senior season with Aaron scoring more than 20 points per game and Andrew adding more than 15. They have continued to be a dangerous combination at Kentucky, where they had immediate chemistry on a team with five freshman starters.

DFW ties: Randle, who is from Dallas, led Prestonwood Christian to a TAPPS state championship his senior season, scoring 32.5 points and grabbing 22.5 rebounds per game. Prestonwood also won titles Randle’s freshman and junior seasons. Randle was the top power forward in the nation in last year’s recruiting class.

Outlook: Kentucky, which started the season as the nation’s No. 1 team but struggled, has grown up in the tourney. The Wildcats flashed potential throughout the season but couldn’t prove to be elite until the past two weeks. Calipari had assembled an all-star team of freshman talent that was expected to rip through the SEC, yet it was Florida that went 18-0 in conference play, including 3-0 against Kentucky. But no one wants to play the Wildcats now. Kentucky picked the perfect time to hit its stride.

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