Freshman Kasey Hill has Florida Gators back at full speed for rematch with Connecticut in Final Four

UF will have blazing freshman Kasey Hill when it tries to avenge a loss to UConn this season that he missed with an injury. This time, the stakes are much bigger.

04/03/2014 12:01 AM

04/03/2014 1:23 AM

Scottie Wilbekin has been dubbed top-seeded Florida’s “Superman,” but the Gators’ “Flash” could be the difference-maker in the Final Four.

Kasey Hill, a blur in the open court, missed Florida’s 65-64 loss to Connecticut earlier this season with a high-ankle sprain.

Florida’s freshman point guard was relegated to the end of the bench in Storrs, Conn., forced to watch All-American guard Shabazz Napier make the game-winner at the buzzer.

But Hill won’t be a frustrated observer in Texas on Saturday night (6:09 p.m., TBS), when the Gators (36-2) seek revenge against the Huskies (30-8) with a berth in the national championship game on the line.

“Kasey can definitely help us,” UF coach Billy Donovan said.

“Kasey in the [NCAA] tournament, and even going back to the [Southeastern Conference tournament] has come on. He’s played better. He’s improved. I’ve got confidence in him. He makes our team faster when he’s out there. I thought what he did in the UCLA game really helped us. He manufactured a lot of easy baskets for us by getting down the lane. Him being available to play really helps our team.”

Although Wilbekin has taken a backseat to no one during the NCAA Tournament, Hill — a former five-star prospect and 2013 McDonald’s All-American out of Umatilla — has been the perfect compliment to Florida’s senior leader.

The 6-1 penetrating facilitator has handed out a team-high 15 assists in four tournament games, as opponents have struggled to contain his slithery speed and quickness in transition.

“As fast as he is, unless you have somebody like that in practice, you can’t really simulate him,” UF guard Michael Frazier II said.

“We need him to get his speed into the game. When he gets into the game, just [raise] the temperature.”

Turner Sports analyst Greg Anthony, a former point guard and 11-year NBA veteran, called Hill an X-factor in Saturday’s rematch.

It’s easy to see why.

In Florida’s lackluster second-round win over Albany, Hill sparked the Gators with 10 second-half points.

A week later, he became just the fourth freshman ever — along with former point guard greats Magic Johnson (1978) and Jason Kidd (1993) — to record 10 or more assists in the Sweet 16, registering 10 against UCLA.

“He’s just gotten better as the year went on,” Wilbekin said.

“He’s really playing at his best right now and getting into the lane, playing better defense, finding guys, it just adds a lot to our team.”

Hill, who missed seven games this season with various injuries and has battled turf toe throughout the tournament, averages 5.5 points and 3.2 assists in 22 minutes off the bench. He has made strides defensively too, recording five steals and 10 rebounds during the tournament.

Whereas Hill’s development has taken time this season, Wilbekin’s willingness to defer to the freshman has been key for both Hill and the team’s overall success, according to Donovan.

“It takes a pretty mature player to say, ‘I’m going to slide off the ball. I’m going to give the ball to a freshman,’ ” Donovan said.

“Scottie’s been great for Kasey. Scottie’s invested a lot of time with him. … But [Scottie] wants to win.”

Hill does too, even while battling a nagging injury.

“I know turf toe is painful, but come on, we’re playing in the Final Four,” Donovan quipped.

“He'll be fine. He's a great kid. … I do appreciate him working through that.”

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