It had a familiar setup for Florida fans: The Gators had a one-point lead, a roster racked by something — on this night, injuries that left Florida with six healthy scholarship players and no point guard for the final four minutes of the game — and a chance to defend a great guard in a critical moment. This was Arizona, Kentucky, Louisville, Mississippi, Missouri, Syracuse — except it was UConn, and it was Shabazz Napier, and it was this:
And that's how Florida lost to Connecticut, 65-64. Watch video someone filmed off their TV if you can stomach it; hit play below if you like punching yourself in the gut.
Napier had 26 points on the night, leading all scorers, and scored UConn's final six, on that buzzer-beating jumper from the foul line, a three bombed from 27 feet, and the free throw that got tacked onto that triple for an additional and questionable foul on Dorian Finney-Smith. Finney-Smith was only on Napier because Scottie Wilbekin was out, having turned his ankle coming down from a leap.
Wilbekin had 15 points for the Gators before his exit, and Casey Prather had 19 to lead the Gators, all accumulated by the 12:49 mark of the second half. Patric Young led the Gators late, scoring seven of his 17 points in the final three minutes, and Michael Frazier had seven points and five rebounds, and played 39 minutes.
Florida did enough to deserve a win, by winning on the boards (11 offensive rebounds, 34 total rebounds) and getting to the line (17 free throws) and getting eight steals, and it did enough to deserve a loss, allowing 11 threes and making just 11 of those 17 free throws and committing 16 turnovers and sinking just three triples of its own.
Just eight Gators played, with Kasey Hill hurt, and Dillon Graham and Eli Carter so hurt they need to redshirt, and Damontre Harris in a purgatory of his own choosing, and Chris Walker in NCAA limbo. By the end of the night, just five scholarship players were healthy: Wilbekin had left, and DeVon Walker's brief stint on the court proved he was not quite recovered enough from a foot sprain of his own to be full speed.
And yet that team scrapped and clawed without a point guard and without a shooter — Frazier was 3-for-5, but made just one three, and was off all night; Finney-Smith, the only other perimeter threat on the team at game's end, was even further from his peak — and lost by one point to an excellent team led by a phenomenal player on the road. It will prompt the same chorus from the same singers, and it is as painful and difficult to accept as it is easy to explain as ever: The other team made one more play than Florida did, and deliverd the Gators a gut-wrenching loss because of it.
This was Connecticut, not Arizona, nor Louisville, nor Missouri. This was new and old all at the same time, and it was the latest soul-raking loss for a program that has spent 2013 collecting them like war wounds.
Someday, it will end. We have to hope that much. I have to hope that much.