ARLINGTON, Texas - Florida arrives at the Final Four riding a 30-game winning streak. But it's the No. 1 seed's last loss on Dec. 2 in Storrs, Conn., that intrigues.
The Gators (36-2) fell to Connecticut (30-8), the surprise winner of the East Regional last week at Madison Square Garden, and now must face a team in the semifinals Saturday evening that knows for certain it can beat the top team in the country. But Gators guard Scottie Wilbekin said it's not about revenge as much as reaching Monday night's championship game.
"As far as getting another crack at playing them, it's really not about that at all,'' Wilbekin said Thursday. "I would be happy to play anybody in the Final Four. They're a great team, and they obviously have played great up to this point. It's going to be a tough game for both of us.''
Wilbekin actually left the first meeting with 3:10 left because of an ankle injury and was in the locker room when the Huskies' Shabazz Napier hit a jumper from the foul line at the buzzer for a 65-64 victory. Napier was Wilbekin's man and had 26 points, but the winning shot and a four-point play with 33 seconds to play came with Wilbekin out.
At the time, Florida coach Billy Donovan called the game-winning shot "lucky'' because it came after the Gators forced Napier to miss a deep, off-balance three-pointer. But UConn's DeAndre Daniels tipped the rebound right to Napier.
Of course, Donovan said no such thing Thursday. "Shabazz, to me, is as good as any point guard in this country,'' Donovan said. "I've got a lot of respect for his leadership . . . for his competitiveness, the confidence he gives the rest of those guys, his willingness to take big shots and make big shots, his willingness to be unselfish and play the right way.
"He's been in big events in big venues. I also think Kevin [Ollie] puts him in some very unique situations. He can beat you with drives, he can beat you with shots, he can beat you from behind the line, and he can also beat you passing the ball.''
Ollie downplayed the importance of that win by his team, noting that, in addition to Wilbekin's injury late in the game, the Gators were missing key reserves Kasey Hill and Chris Walker. "That's four months ago,'' Ollie said. "They had a different team. We're a different team.''
Oddly enough, Ollie said that win over Florida was not a turning point at the time. It became one after Connecticut suffered a 33-point loss in the regular-season finale at Louisville. Trying to pick his team up before the American Athletic Conference Tournament, Ollie showed them the Florida game film.
"I wanted our guys to see how we were rotating, how we were challenging them and that we can have that same experience again and play that same type of way,'' Ollie said. "Florida's No. 1. We competed at a high level against them.''
The Huskies did it once, and now they'll have the chance to do it again.