University of Florida

March 31, 2014

Florida Gators have chance to avenge losses this season in Final Four

Florida’s trip to Texas for the Final Four could give the Gators two chances at revenge.

Florida’s trip to Texas could give the Gators two chances at revenge.

The Gators, the most complete team remaining in the tournament and winners of 30 consecutive games, will take on seventh-seeded Connecticut — the last team to beat UF — on Saturday at 6:09 p.m. in AT&T Stadium at the Final Four.

UConn (30-8) upset Michigan State 60-54 in a slobberknocker Sunday afternoon in New York City, setting up a rematch and the first opportunity for the Gators to right their (very few) wrongs this season.

UF lost to Connecticut 65-64 on Dec. 2 in Storrs, Conn., as Huskies senior All-American point guard Shabazz Napier — who scored 26 points — drilled a fadeaway at the buzzer.

The Gators (36-2) will have the opportunity to avenge the loss at full strength this time after South Regional Most Outstanding Player Scottie Wilbekin — UF’s catalyst on both ends of the floor — watched the final three minutes from the bench with a high-ankle sprain. The Gators were forced to play without a point guard, as freshman Kasey Hill missed the contest with an ankle injury.

No. 2 seed Wisconsin — the only other team to take down the Gators this season — and eighth-seeded Kentucky, whom Florida beat three times this season, round out the Final Four. And for the first time since 2006, the Southeastern Conference has two representatives in National Semifinals.

The roller-coaster careers of Wilbekin, Patric Young, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete will end in Arlington, Texas, but Florida heads to the Final Four as the clear favorite to win the title.

The Gators topped Cinderella-story Dayton 62-52 Saturday, exorcising three consecutive years of Elite Eight exits to finally get over the hump.

Like the survivors of Lost, these Gators — a flawed but promising group — feel they’re destined for this moment.

“Coach [Billy Donovan] said before the game that it feels like you’re destined, like things happen for a reason,” Wilbekin said. “He felt like we were all brought together on this team for a reason. I think that couldn’t be more true.”

Will their dreams still alive, the Gators appeared relieved after taking down the pesky Flyers, but swear they’re not satisfied simply advancing.

“Our goal at the beginning of the year wasn’t to be South champions,” Young said. “Our goal was to be national champions. Walking up that ladder, I was just thinking how I wanted to do this again.”

If Florida tops UConn, it will have to beat Kentucky for the fourth time this season or avenge a 59-53 shorthanded-road loss to the Badgers.

“We’ve been in some situations this postseason where we’ve really had to earn it,” Donovan said.

That won’t change in Texas.

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