ARLINGTON, Texas — You know Shabazz Napier, and rightfully so. The AAC player of the year is a consensus All-American and finalist for the major collegiate player of the year awards. There’s also that little buzzer-beater the senior nailed to beat Florida in the two teams’ December matchup in Storrs, Connecticut. Napier is the elephant in the room while Ryan Boatright is the thief in the night, with cat-like quickness in a 6-foot package. They’re 21-4 when Boatright scores in double figures, giving UConn a tangible 1-2 punch in the backcourt that rivals even Florida’s talented starting duo.
“Boatright is one of those guys who can do it on his own, too,” Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. “He’s got great ball skills. He’s fast. He’s a good athlete. He can beat you off the bounce. He can shoot it from behind the line. He’s good in pick‑and‑roll.”
So it’s on Florida to stop the UConn guards, something many don’t do, and on a whole, except for Napier, the Gators were able to do so in the December meeting. Boatright had nine points, sophomore Omar Calhoun had only two. For the Gators it will be about what it’s always been about on defense, defending as a unit, not leaving one person — no matter how impressive of an on-ball defender Scottie Wilbekin is — with the task of trying to stop either Napier or Boatright by themselves.
“Scottie’s going to need help because Kevin [Ollie] puts Shabazz in a lot of situations that he’s coming off screens, he’s in pick‑and‑rolls with the floor spread,” Donovan said. “To put Scottie on an island and expect him all by himself to handle him, Shabazz is just too gifted offensively. So it’s got to be a group effort. For everybody. Not only him.”
Donovan said if Florida had Wilbekin matched up exclusively with Napier, Michael Frazier II with Boatright and Will Yeguete with UConn wing player DeAndre Daniels, the Gators wouldn’t be playing to their identity. This is a cardinal sin in Donovan’s opinion; one he says was the biggest reason why Florida struggled in its opening matchup against Albany. Besides, playing to their identity has gotten them pretty far, why stop now?
This is Florida’s fifth Final Four appearance all-time…this is the fourth Final Four for Florida under head coach Billy Donovan, his sixth personally — he participated in one with Providence as a player and another with Kentucky as an assistant coach…Billy Donovan as a head coach is 3-0 all-time in national semifinals…Guard Scottie Wilbekin played 73 minutes without a turnover in the Dayton and UCLA games combined…Florida’s four seniors will be playing their 544th game together when they suit up against UConn…Florida is 1-1 all-time against UConn, 1-0 in the NCAA tournament and 0-1 under Billy Donovan…UConn is also making its fifth appearance in the Final Four, and its third in the last six years…Head coach Kevin Ollie is the only coach in UConn history to post a 20-victory season in his first year and reach 50 wins in his first two years…This is UConn’s 32nd appearance in the NCAA tournament…UConn is 6-1 all-time in Final Four games…Two of the school’s three national championships have been won in the state of Texas…UConn is 36-8 in its last 12 appearances in the NCAA tournament…Using the AP poll rankings, this will be the ninth ranked opponent UConn has faced in its last 11 games…Guard Shabazz Napier will extend a school record for consecutive starts in a row with his 40th straight Saturday.
On his team’s readiness for UConn
Florida head coach Billy Donovan:
I think that the confidence level our team has been what it’s been really the entire year. These guys understand what goes into playing and competing, they’re really good as it relates to scouting report and preparation. I think they understand how hard they have to play, how well they have to play defensively together, offensively together.”
On defending UConn inside
Florida center Patric Young:
Well, I think in this situation that we are right now, we’re going against a really hot team, offensively and defensively. It’s going to take a team focus, making sure we’re all doing our jobs, helping the helpers. That’s one of the key concepts and principles.”
On helping Kasey Hill
Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin:
Yeah, I just tried to give him pointers here and there. If I see something that I’ve been through being here for four years, and mostly on defense, because from the high school level to the college level, the defense changes a lot. There’s a lot more schemes. It’s more complex, what you need to do as a defender on the ball and as a help defender.”
On watching his mentor go through Final Four prep
UConn head coach Kevin Ollie:
I had a great opportunity to see him work in 2011, which was not that far away. It was a couple years ago. So, of course, it’s a different venue. It’s a different stage. I’m in that head coaching seat. But I seen him and I worked closely with him. I see the ups and downs. I see how he deals with problems that arise and I learned a lot from him.”
On the challenges of facing Florida
UConn forward Phillip Nolan:
Just I have to do whatever I need to do to help this team win, whether it’s running, fronting the post, getting an extra rebound, it’s just me. I have to do what I have to do.”
On the challenges of facing Florida
UConn forward DeAndre Daniels:
It starts with the little things. Just playing the details and always following the game plan that we have. We work on it every day in practice, of fronting the post and boxing out. We have been doing a great job lately of that. But most important thing is the front court. We lack size all year, but one thing we don’t lack is heart. And we’re just out there having fun and playing hard.”
On trusting his front court players
UConn guard Ryan Boatright:
Talked about that earlier, these guys taking ownership of the team now. This is, I’m in the back. They’re taking ownership. They’re driving the bus right now. That’s the only way we are here at the Final Four.”