It came down to a hustle play Monday night at Gampel Pavilion and who else but Shabazz Napier was there when the 15th-ranked UConn Huskies needed him. With the clock winding down under 10 seconds, Napier nearly lost the ball off the dribble but somehow regained possession and lofted a shot that missed. He hustled down his own rebound and with just one second to go threw up a 12-foot shot that slithered through the net at the buzzer to give the Huskies a 65-64 win over 12th-ranked Florida.
Napier, who has built a national reputation as Mr. Clutch for his last second heroics, was good for 26 points against the Gators, overshadowing a brilliant performance down the stretch by Florida’s Patric Young, who took the Gators on his back when Scottie Wilbekin had to leave the game with an ankle injury with 3:01 remaining. The Gators trailed UConn, 57-55, and had made only one shot from the field – a three-pointer by Michael Frazier with 6:02 to play – since the 12:49 mark when Young went off for seven straight Florida points to stake the Gators to a 62-59 advantage with 1:18 to play.
It came down to fortunate bounces and hustle the rest of the way. UConn regained the lead at 63-62 on a four-point play by Napier after the Huskies had missed two three-pointers but tracked down the rebounds to reset the clock. The third time was a charm as Napier bombed in a three-ball and got the benefit of a the whistle when he came down on Dorian Finney-Smith’s ankle. Napier went to the line and buried the foul shot to give the Huskies a one-point lead.
Without a true point guard in the game, Florida spread the floor and Casey Prather found Michael Frazier cutting to the rim for a layup that gave the Gators 64-63 lead with 17.7 seconds remaining, setting the stage for Napier’s last second heroics.
This was a game that Florida seemed to have in control when Prather sliced to the basket for a layup with 12:49 to go, giving the Gators a 48-41 lead. The Gatorrs had a chance to extend the lead to double figures after a Frazier steal but Will Yeguete missed the layup with 12:04 left in the game and that was the turning point. UConn scored the next 10 points while the Gators turned the ball over four times in five possessions.
A Yeguete free throw with 8:47 was the first point the Gators had scored in more than four minutes but UConn answered with a three-pointer by Ryan Boatright with 7:31 to go to extend the lead to five, 54-49.
Florida scored the next six points, three on free throws by Young and three by Frazier, his only three-pointer of the game with 6:02 to go, giving the Gators a 55-54 lead.
It was 57-55 when Wilbekin turned his ankle when he stepped on Boatright’s foot while coming down with a rebound. He left the court under his own power but never returned.
In his absence, Finney-Smith took over the point and Young took over the game. He hit a lefty jump hook with 2:47 to go to tie the game at 57-57, gave the Gators a 59-58 lead with 2:04 to go with a two-hand follow at the rim of a miss by Yeguete, and then capped off his impressive run with a three-point play with 1:18 to go.
Florida also had an eight-point lead in the first half thanks to a 13-2 run that was fueled by six points by Prather, who gave the Gators a 24-16 lead on a 10-foot shot off a nice pass from Young with 5:50 left.
But UConn hit three consecutive three-pointers as part of an 11-0 run that gave the Huskies a 27-24 lead with 3:08 to go. Florida went stale offensively because of three turnovers and two untimely fouls, but the Gators got the last four points of the half on a runner by Young and a buzzer beater jumper in the lane by Wilbekin to go into the locker trailing only 30-29.
The loss drops Florida to 6-2 on the season. The Gators aren’t in action again until next Tuesday when they host seventh-ranked Kansas at the O-Dome in the Big 12-SEC Challenge.
GAME NOTES: Prather finished with 19 points, seve rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot but he was charged with five turnovers … Young had a season-high 17 points to go with seven rebounds, one assist, two steals and a blocked shot … Wilbekin scored 15 and had three rebounds, two assists and two steals … The difference in the game was the three-point line where UConn went 11-24 including 5-8 from Napier.