ARLINGTON, Texas (MCT) – During the past four months, the Florida Gators always found an answer, an extra gear, a hero to carry them to one victory after another one.
But after 30 straight wins and a magical run to the Final Four, the Gators searched in vain for anything or anyone to give them a boost during a 63-53 loss to UConn on Saturday night at AT&T Stadium. The announced crowd of 79,444 was a NCAA record.
"It's really tough," senior center Patric Young said. "I can't really explain how I feel."
The faces and voices in the Gators' locker room said enough.
Tears filled the eyes of Will Yeguete, while Casey Prather's were red and swollen. Freshman Chris Walker cried as reporters interviewed him, while words escaped sophomore Dorian Finney-Smith.
Scottie Wilbekin stared ahead in silence.
"I don't know," Finney-Smith said. "I can't even speak right now."
There really was not much to say.
This one went downhill fast for Florida, which had not lost since a Dec. 2 defeat at UConn on a buzzer beater by Huskies guard Shabazz Napier.
The Gators jumped to a 16-4 lead and seemed to be cruising to the national title game on Monday when the wheels came off, undone by a lack of ball movement, poor 3-point shooting and the inability to match UConn's quickness.
With Cowboys owner Jerry Jones looking on from his luxury suite and former Gators' star Chandler Parson making the rounds with Houston Rockets teammate Dwight Howard, Florida (36-3) folded like a wet funnel cake at the Texas State Fair.
Wilbekin _ the Gators' go-to guy all season _ battled cramps in his legs and finished with just four points and one assist. UF finished with just three assists _ a season low _ and committed 11 turnovers.
"That's crazy," Wilbekin said. "That's not usually what we do. All credit goes to them and their guards and the way they were denying and putting pressure on the ball."
Sophomore shooting guard Michael Frazier II _ one of the nation's best 3-pointer shooters _ could not shake UConn's guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatwright all night. Frazier hit a 3-pointer 10 seconds into the game and did not score again during 32 minutes on the floor.
"He just couldn't get off screens because their speed and quickness didn't allow him to," Gators coach Billy Donovan said.
Young himself had 17 second-half points and spear-headed a Gators' run that cut a 10-point UConn lead to 43-40 with 8:03 to go.
After Young pulled his team close, the Huskies immediately answered, using their superior quickness to attack the basket.
A drive by Terrence Samuel, a run-out by Boatwright following a Wilbekin turnover and back-to-back layups by 6-foot-9 forward DeAndre Daniels pushed the lead back to 10, at 51-41 with 5:03 to go.
Young soon reeled off six more points, but UConn snuffed out the Gators' last-ditch run with relentless pressure on the ball and 6 of 6 free-throw shooting in the final four minutes.
In the end, the Huskies (31-8) outscored Florida 36-24 in the paint and had a 28-27 rebounding edge.
The Gators would finish 19 of 49 from the field (38.8 percent) and just 1 of 10 from 3-point range.
"An offense wasn't here tonight," Yeguete said.
After building their early 12-point lead, the Gators suffered a stretch of more than 17 minutes with just four field goals, all by Prather, who finished with 15 points on 6 of 10 shooting.
UConn, on the other hand, hit eight of its final 12 shots to end the first half after scoring just four points during the game's first 11 minutes. The Huskies then opened the second half with a 6-0 run.
Daniels led the way, finishing with a game-high 20 points and 10 rebounds. Boatwright added 13 points, while Napier had 12 points, six assists and four steals.
"We've been in a lot of dogfights," Napier said. "We are just an experienced group. We believe in each other and will continue to believe in each other and have the faith."
The Huskies will face the winner of the late Final Four matchup between Kentucky and Wisconsin. Tipoff for the title game is 9:10 p.m. and it will air on CBS.
The Gators will head back to Gainesville, disheartened by how things ended but happy to have enjoyed an amazing, record-setting ride this season.
"We're a great team, I think," Yegeute said. "We accomplished a lot during the course of the year. They played better than us tonight. This game is noth changing anything how I feel."