Gators fall to UConn on Napier buzzer-beater

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.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.