Florida saw its 30-game winning streak and magical season come to an end in a 63-53 loss to Connecticut in the NCAA semifinals on Saturday.
It was largely because the man mostly responsible for the Gators getting to the Final Four had his worst game on the biggest stage of the season.
Scottie Wilbekin, the SEC of player of the year, the SEC tournament MVP and the NCAA South Regional’s most outstanding player, scored just four points on 2 of 9 shooting. He also had three turnovers and just one assist.
Certainly none of Florida’s guards played well. Michael Frazier II took no shots in the second half. He had a turnover, and backup guard Kasey Hill had four turnovers as UConn’s guards completely took Florida out of the game with their quickness and aggressive defense.
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But even coach Billy Donovan said it was Wilbekin’s poor play that proved to be the difference. He couldn’t shoot. He couldn’t drive. And he couldn’t create for his teammates as he has all season.
“The difference in the game was Scottie Wilbekin couldn’t live in the lane line like had had all year long for us,” Donovan said. “Every time we needed a big shot or big play, he was in the lane. He had a really hard time getting in the lane. It made our offense very difficult. He couldn’t get off screens.
“When you see three assists that’s a reflection of your guards. We wouldn’t be in this situation if not for Scottie Wilbekin. You wish he could have and performed a little better for us.”
The way the Gators started it looked like it was going to end well for them. The Gators jumped out to a 16-4 lead and were on the verge of blowing the game open. But UConn was able to get back to in the game with three consecutive 3s, ending the half on a 21-6 run.
Donovan said once the Huskies were able to slow Florida on the break and get their defense set, the game turned. Florida finished the half making two of its last 11 shots. The Gators shot 34.8 percent for the half and 38.8 percent for the game. The 53 points tied for season low, dating to the 59-53 loss to Wisconsin on Nov. 12.
Donovan still proud
The season didn’t end the way the Gators hoped it would.
A 30-game winning streak. An 18-0 record in SEC play.
They were a huge favorite to win it all before after and during the NCAA Tournament. They thought so — and so did most prognosticators.
“Did our team play as close to their potential?” Donovan asked, rhetorically. “Maybe more so than any team I have coached based on the talent level. We played way beyond our potential. These guys ran off 30 straight games. They went through the SEC unblemished. They got to the Final Four. UConn played better than we did.
“But I’m so proud of my guys. I saw how dysfunctional we were in September. I didn’t even know what we would look like. I got a chance to experience a lot of personal victories along the way.”