If any team is capable of slowing down Shabazz Napier and the UConn Huskies, it’s probably the suffocating defense of the top-ranked Florida Gators. But UConn’s offense isn’t limited to one player.
Napier and the seventh seeded Huskies (30-8) have blazed an incredible trail of offense to the Final Four, the fifth in school history, but Florida’s perimeter defense stands as the biggest reason UConn’s run could end during Saturday’s national semi-final in Arlington, Texas.
Napier took home the AAC Player of the Year award after ranking third in the conference in scoring at 18.1 points and second in assists with 4.9 dishes a game, but he’s taken his game to a whole new level these last two weeks. Hoping to extend his already stellar college career to one more game, the senior guard Napier has torched opponents for 23.3 points in four tournament wins, shooting 45 percent overall, and 45 percent from three.
Napier’s already proven he can take over a game and get by a smothering defense after scoring a game-high 25 points against Michigan State in the Elite Eight. He also went 9-for-9 from the free throw line and has only missed two attempts from the charity stripe throughout tournament.
But Napier hasn’t reached the second Final Four of his career by himself. Junior guard DeAndre Daniels has been just as lethal as his backcourt partner, coming up with 27 huge points and 10 rebounds in the upset over Iowa State in the Sweet 16.
Daniels even remained ferocious on the defensive end when his shot wasn’t falling. Against the Spartans he did chip in 12 points on 4-for-10 shooting, but his eight rebounds, two steals and two blocks were arguably more important to limiting any chance of a late surge from Tom Izzo’s team.
There’s also freshman sparkplug guard Terence Samuels, who came up with 11 points in the third round win over Villanova, and 10 points against the Cyclones.
Another Husky, who has remained largely under the radar, is guard Ryan Boatright. During the tournament, the junior scored 13.8 points per game, and came up with four clutch steals against the Spartans.
Even with all that firepower, the Gators are far and away the toughest defensive matchup UConn has faced this year.
Head coach Billy Donovan and the Gators (32-6) led the SEC in scoring defense allowing 57.6 points, scoring margin at +12.7 points, opponent field goal percentage at 39 percent, and was third in the conference forcing 13.5 turnovers per contest.
During the tournament, guards Scott Wilbekin and Michael Frazier III have extended Florida’s win streak to 30 games with only one opponent (UCLA in the Round of 32) cracking the 40 percent shooting barrier. And with the help of senior forward Casey Prather’s long arms the Gators are averaging 6.5 steals a game in the tournament.
Those three, along with French senior forward Will Yeguete will look to swarm the hot shooting Napier and the rest of the Huskies for a full 40 minutes.
Betting Odds: Florida -6.5
Over/Under: 126.5 points
Prediction: UConn over Florida, 65-60