The 2014 Florida basketball team was one that showed promise all year long. They demonstrated their ability to adapt in tough situations, regardless of the opponent. Their 30-game win streak put the entire NCAA on notice, and with it came championship aspirations for fans and players alike. On Saturday, nearly all of this ability and momentum came crashing down in a 63-53 final four loss to UConn.
The Gators looked nothing like the veteran team fans have grown accustomed to watching all season long. Coming into the game, it looked like Florida’s defense would be the story – and for the first few minutes of the game, this appeared to be the case. UConn struggled to find their groove offensively, while Florida got out to an early double-digit lead.
Midway through the half, the tables turned in UConn’s favor. They hit their stride offensively and never looked back. For Florida, a strong offensive output was generally expected and was not a cause for panic. What was more concerning was UConn’s stifling defense. They gave the Gators a taste of their own medicine, denying them ball movement and penetration all game long.
This lack of production on offense had a domino effect for Florida. Without consistent scoring, they did not force many inbounds plays for UConn. This is where they could get into their full-court press – a weapon that clearly disrupted their flow early in the game.
The Gators found themselves down double digits for most of the second half, until they found some form of consistent offense from senior forward Patric Young. He brought them to within three points with seven minutes left, but that was as close as it would get. Florida simply had no answer for UConn’s backcourt, whose quick passing really opened things up for them offensively.
Gators senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin had been their best clutch player all season long. His ability to close out games was a big reason his team had won 30 straight heading into the final four. Saturday night, he simply did not have it. Wilbekin relies heavily on ball screens and penetration to attack offensively, two things that were hard to come by against UConn’s stout defense. Sore knees seemed to bother him during the second half, but he would play through it. His cutting ability and quickness seemed to still be there, so how much the injury limited him is still in question. He would go on to finish 2-9 shooting, totaling four points to go with just two assists — quite a letdown from the 2014 SEC player of the year.
After the game, Billy Donovan commented on this in his press conference, saying “so much of our offense relies on Scottie Wilbekin’s penetration, and he was neutralized in doing that part of his game for us.” Donovan went on to say that although he wished the game swung more in their favor, he could not be more proud of his team. “These guys really came together this year. I got the chance to be a part of seeing people really change. I saw people change their view on life, change their view on being a team, and change their view on each other.” For a head coach, having this kind of influence on young athletes is often more of a victory than any on-court accomplishment could ever be.
UConn will move on to the national championship game where they will meet the Kentucky Wildcats. For Florida, another chapter is closed on the storied program coach Donovan has built. His recently restructured contract has him signed through the 2019 season, so there should be many more tournament runs on the horizon.
Sadly, Gator nation must collectively wave goodbye to the winningest senior class in school history. Like so many who graduated before them, they will always have a home in Gainesville. Their names will forever reside next to countless school records. But anyone who knows the Florida basketball program knows there is talent waiting in the wings. There are recruits who are primed and ready to win.
Next season, a new era of Florida basketball will begin, but the legacy of the 2014 senior class will be engrained in the mind of Gators fans forever.