ARLINGTON, Texas – Connecticut didn’t wait for the final buzzer to beat Florida this time.
The Huskies, the seventh seed in the East Regional, had outstanding games on both ends of the court to beat overall No. 1 seed Florida 63-53 on Saturday night.
The win ended Florida’s 30-game winning streak, which began after the Huskies beat the Gators 65-64 on Dec. 2 on a buzzer-beating jumper by Shabazz Napier.
Napier helped seal this game with about 2 minutes to play when he made two free throws for a 59-47 lead. That margin was the deficit the Huskies faced in the first half.
With second-year coach Kevin Ollie in a defensive stance himself most of the game, the Huskies sidetracked the Florida offense by shutting down point guard Scottie Wilbekin and 3-point specialist Michael Frazier II, who scored a combined seven points.
The Huskies were also impressive on offense, shooting 55.8 percent (24 of 43) from the field against a team that allowed opponents to shoot 39.9 percent this season while holding opponents to 57.6 points per game, third-best in the country.
The Huskies (31-8) will play the winner of the Wisconsin-Kentucky game for the national championship on Monday night.
DeAndre Daniels had 20 points and 10 rebounds for Connecticut, and it was his two 3-pointers in a span of 1:43 that helped ignite the Huskies after they had fallen behind 16-4.
Napier, who leads the team in almost every category, didn’t dominate, but he finished with 12 points and six assists. He definitely got the better of Wilbekin in a matchup of conference players of the year.
Wilbekin, had only two turnovers in the entire tournament, turned it over three times, twice in the second half on steals by Napier. He was bothered by cramps throughout the game.
Patric Young had 19 points for Florida (36-3), which had won all of its NCAA tournament games by at least 10 points. The Gators shot just 38.8 percent from the field (19 of 49), well off their 46.1 percent average.
The Huskies used the 3-pointer to open things up inside, hitting 5 of 12 from long range. They had such an easy time scoring inside that they had only basket outside the paint in the final 20 minutes, shooting 63.6 percent (14 of 22).
Florida was just 1 for 10 from 3-point range and the Gators’ most effective weapon through most of the game was an offensive rebound off a miss. They had 12 in the game and turned them into 13 points.
Florida’s defense – which was No. 3 in the nation – was suffocating early and the Gators took a 16-4 lead with a 7-0 run that was capped by a drive by Wilbekin with 9:47 to play.
The Huskies suddenly found their shooting touch. After starting 2 for 9 from the field, Connecticut made four straight shots and three of them were from beyond the 3-point line – two by Daniels and another by Ryan Boatright. A 3 by Napier brought Connecticut within 20-18 and a three-point play by Niels Giffey gave the Huskies their first lead of the game, 21-20 with 3:18 left in the half.
Connecticut, which was 8 for 12 from the field after the terrible start, took a 25-22 halftime lead after a fadeaway jumper by Daniels.
They stretched the lead to 37-27 with 13:10 left after another Boatright driving layup. They fought off every rally by Florida, which cut it to 43-40 with 8:03 left, but never threatened again.
Ollie only had to look to the stands at AT&T Stadium to see Jim Calhoun, his successor and the coach who led Connecticut to its three national titles.
Florida was looking to reach the national championship game for the first time since repeating as champions in 2007.