ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — With the game winding down and his team facing a double-digit deficit, Florida coach Billy Donovan turned to an NCAA official sitting courtside and jokingly asked if they could start over.
Well, maybe Donovan wasn’t kidding.
The Gators, the last No. 1 seed standing in the NCAA tournament, played their worst game of the season on college basketball’s biggest stage Saturday night. And the team’s backcourt had a lot to do with it.
Southeastern Conference player of the year Scottie Wilbekin and fellow guards Michael Frazier II and Kasey Hill struggled in a 63-53 loss to Connecticut in an NCAA semifinal. It ended Florida’s season and school-record, 30-game winning streak.
“They were really disruptive with what they did to our offensive flow,” said Wilbekin, who dealt with leg cramps in the second half. “They made us disjointed in our offense in a lot and we ended up in late-clock situations, having to force something up. It was one of our worst offensive-execution games of the seasons.”
Wilbekin finished with four points and just one assist for the Gators (36-3), whose last loss came at UConn on Dec. 2.
“The difference in the game was Scottie Wilbekin couldn’t live in the lane like he has all year long for us,” Donovan said. “Every time we needed a big shot or a big play, whether against Arkansas or UCLA, he was in the lane.”
Frazier hit a 3-pointer off the opening tip, but did little else the rest of the way. Hill scored seven points and was in foul trouble for much of the game.
On the defensive end, the three guards were no match for UConn’s Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. The Huskies duo combined for 25 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. UConn (31-8) advanced to play the Kentucky-Wisconsin winner in the title game Monday night.
“We tried to speed them up in the press, but they were able to get what they wanted on offense,” Hill said. “And we weren’t able to get what we wanted offensively.”
The Huskies did everything right after a horrible start. Florida led 16-4 after the game’s first 10 minutes, but UConn got hot from 3-point range and started chipping into the lead.
By the time the first half ended, Florida was down three and out of sync.
It got no better after the break.
Wilbekin never found his rhythm and spent time on the bench dealing with cramps. Frazier, one of the best 3-point shooters in the country, couldn’t get any open looks from behind the arc. He finished 1-of-3 shooting and didn’t adjust to what the defense was giving him.
The Gators went 1-for-10 from 3-point range, their fewest treys made this season. Wilbekin missed all three of his shots from 3-point range, including an air ball with about 6 minutes to play, and was 2-for-9 from the field. Hill was nearly as inept, finishing 2-for-6 from the floor.
Florida finished with three assists, four fewer than its previous season low. Throw in 11 turnovers, including eight from the guard trio, and Florida may have been fortunate to even be close in the second half.
“That’s crazy,” Wilbekin said. “That’s not usually what we do. All credit goes to them and their guards and the way they were denying and putting pressure on us. We weren’t taking care of the ball. We were just being too loose with it.”
Florida did have a few positives. Center Patric Young had 19 points, and slashing swingman Casey Prather added 15.
Prather scored Florida’s only three baskets in a 13-minute span stretching across halftime that helped turn the game.
The Gators missed eight of their final 10 baskets of the first half and were outplayed to open the second. Prather’s three-point play, which followed Young’s back-to-back hook shots, cut the lead to 41-38 and gave Florida hope.
But Napier and Boatright took over, driving around Florida’s guards and creating easy baskets for DeAndre Daniels.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Florida’s four seniors huddled together for a few words and then trudged off the court. It wasn’t the way they expected to end the season, especially after sweeping the SEC and setting school and conference records along the way.
“It was one of the worst feelings I’ve ever felt,” Prather said.