ARLINGTON, Texas — Connecticut didn’t wait for the final buzzer to beat Florida this time.
The Huskies, the seventh seed in the East Regional, had outstanding games on both ends of the court to beat overall No. 1 seed Florida 63-53 on Saturday night.
The win ended Florida’s 30-game winning streak, which began after the Huskies beat the Gators 65-64 on Dec. 2 on a buzzer-beating jumper by Shabazz Napier.
Napier helped seal this game with about two minutes to play when he made two free throws for a 59-47 lead. That margin was the deficit the Huskies faced in the first half.
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With second-year coach Kevin Ollie in a defensive stance himself most of the game, the Huskies sidetracked the Florida offense by shutting down point guard Scottie Wilbekin and three-point specialist Michael Frazier II, who scored a combined seven points.
The Huskies were also impressive on offense, shooting 55.8 percent (24 of 43) from the field against a team that allowed opponents to shoot 39.9 percent this season while holding opponents to 57.6 points per game, third-best in the country.
The Huskies (31-8) will play Kentucky for the national championship on Monday night.
DeAndre Daniels had 20 points and 10 rebounds for Connecticut, and it was his two three-pointers in a span of 1:43 that helped ignite the Huskies after they had fallen behind 16-4.
Napier, who leads the team in almost every category, didn’t dominate, but he finished with 12 points and six assists. He definitely got the better of Wilbekin in a matchup of conference players of the year.
Wilbekin, had only two turnovers in the entire tournament, turned it over three times, twice in the second half on steals by Napier. He was bothered by cramps throughout the game.
“We have been in a lot of dog fights,” Napier said. “We are just an experienced group. We believe in each other and continue to believe in each other. … We are going to win. That is what we do.”
Patric Young had 19 points for Florida (36-3), which had won all of its NCAA tournament games by at least 10 points. The Gators shot just 38.8 percent from the field (19 of 49), well off their 46.1 percent average.
The Huskies used the three-pointer to open things up inside, hitting 5 of 12 from long range. They had such an easy time scoring inside that they had only one basket outside the paint in the second half, shooting 63.6 percent (14 of 22).
Florida was just 1 for 10 from three-point range, and the Gators’ most effective weapon through most of the game was an offensive rebound off a miss. They had 12 in the game and turned them into 13 points.
Florida’s defense — which was No. 3 in the nation — was suffocating early and the Gators took a 16-4 lead with a 7-0 run that was capped by a drive by Wilbekin with 9:47 to play. But UConn rallied.
“They knew we was going to get back in the game,” Ollie said. “We live and die on defense, and hopefully everybody understands that.”