The 15th ranked Florida men’s basketball team went into Harry A. Gampel Pavilion in Connecticut seeking its first road victory of the season against a top 25 opponent; however, much as the result in Wisconsin less than a month ago, the Gators fell just short, losing 65-64 on a last second shot by guard Shabazz Napier.
The Gators went into Monday’s contest riding high, coming off a 67-66 victory over the Florida State Seminoles in the Sunshine Showdown, and holding a win streak of five games.
The backcourt for the Gators was a strong point yet again, as the Gators relied on their two senior guards much as they knew they might have to do. Senior Casey Prather has been on fire for the Gators all season averaging 19 points per game and that’s what he scored in this game, shooting 8 of 13 from the field, and hitting on 3 of 5 free throw attempts. Prather also finished with seven rebounds, three assists, and a block in the 37 minutes of play.
Starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin found himself having another stellar night for the Gators finishing just shy of Prather with 15 points. However as the point guard, Wilbekin put up an unusual amount of shots as he took 14, the most on the team. With this unusual amount, the Gators assist numbers took a major hit as they finished with just eight on the night. Wilbekin played a total of 33 minutes and his defense was something the Gators needed to keep U Conn’s excellent guards in check. However, late in the second half, Wilbekin went up for a shot and came down on UConn guard Ryan Boatright, twisting his ankle badly. He would not return to the game.
This left the Gators as they have for other games this year, without a point guard. And with sophomore guard DeVon Walker still ailing from his own ankle problems it was up to redshirt sophomore Dorian Finney-Smith to take the ball for the Gators. With the lack of guards, the Gators were forced to move their game inside and senior center Patric Young really stepped up, scoring 17 points on 6 of 10 shooting while also hitting 5 of 7 from the charity stripe.
Other Gators did not fare as well; Will Yeguete played 24 minutes totaling just three points shooting an abysmal 1 of 6 from the field while sophomore Michael Frazier II who had been shooting hot as of late, finished with just seven points.
A very key stat line on the night was rebounds for both of these teams. The end result gave the Gators the edge 34-26 on the boards, but the Huskies came away with the offensive boards when it counted the most.
The second to last possession for the Huskies in which Napier put up a 4 point play would have never happened without two different offensive rebounds to keep that possession active.
And with just 17 seconds remaining, the Huskies inbounded the ball with no timeouts, down a point. After some good defense by the Gators, Napier rushed a shot that hit off the backboard but was then tipped back by UConn’s junior forward DeAndre Daniels, right back to the hands of Napier where he got a second chance that he used to send the Gators home with a loss. Yet another rebound missed for the Gators and an opportunity for a huge road victory lost.
The Gators are still in the midst of a very difficult stretch in their season and now the status of their starting point guard is uncertain. Up next for the Gators is the Kansas Jayhawks at home, and luckily for the Gators they get an eight day resting period to prepare and hopefully get healthier.