ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) – A look at Saturday’s games at the Final Four:
CONNECTICUT (30-8) vs. FLORIDA (36-2)
No. 7 Connecticut beat No. 10 Saint Joseph’s 89-81, OT; beat No. 2 Villanova 77-65; beat No. 3 Iowa State 81-76; beat No. 4 Michigan State 60-54.
Senior guard Shabazz Napier was a first-team All-America selection and was the American Athletic Conference player of the year. The 6-foot-1 Napier leads the Huskies in scoring (18.1), rebounds (5.9), assists (4.9) and steals (1.7). Shot a career-best 39.9 percent from 3-point range this season and that included a career-best seven 3s against Rutgers. He is the only Connecticut player to ever have 1,500 points and 500 assists in a career.
Kevin Ollie, the hand-picked successor to Naismith Memorial Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun, took the Huskies to the Final Four in the first season they were eligible under him. They were banned from the NCAA tournament last year because of failure to meet academic standards. Ollie was on Calhoun’s staff for two seasons after a 13-year NBA career.
This is the second Final Four for the seniors as the Huskies won it all when they were freshmen in 2011. Connecticut isn’t deep, with four starters averaging at least 33 minutes per game in the NCAA tournament. The Huskies did have a bit of a home-court advantage in the East Regional at Madison Square Garden. DeAndre Daniels stepped up with a 27-point, 10-rebound effort against Iowa State and the front line did an effective job against Michigan State in the regional final.
No. 1 Florida beat No. 16 Albany 67-55; beat No. 9 Pittsburgh 61-45; beat No. 4 UCLA 79-68; beat No. 11 Dayton 62-52.
Scottie Wilbekin averaged 16.8 points in being selected South Regional most outstanding player. The senior guard was the Southeastern Conference player of the year. Considered one of the top perimeter defenders in the nation, he is also the Gators’ top playmaker and is averaging 34 minutes per game. He has scored in double figures in the Gators’ last eight games and that included a season high-matching 23 in the regional final.
Billy Donovan could move into some select company if the Gators win it all, as only five coaches have won three or more national championships. This is the fourth time Donovan has taken the Gators to the Final Four, including consecutive titles in 2006 and 2007. He was selected SEC coach of the year for the third time this season after taking the Gators through an unbeaten conference season. He is completing his 18th season at Florida and he is making his 15th appearance in the NCAA tournament.
The Gators have won 30 consecutive games, a streak that dates to a Dec. 2 loss at Connecticut. With four seniors in the rotation, Florida is one of the most experienced teams in the country. Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II are a more than solid backcourt and the frontcourt is versatile with the power inside of Patric Young and the wing scoring of Dorian Finney-Smith and Casey Prather.
When these teams met in Storrs, Conn., 23 days before Christmas, Napier hit the game-winning jumper from the free throw line at the buzzer. Wilbekin left the game with an injury with about 5 minutes to go and didn’t return. The Gators, who haven’t lost since that game, have been ranked No. 1 for the last four weeks and except for the one-point win over Kentucky in the SEC title game, nobody has come closer than seven points since March 1.
Their first meeting was so long ago that revenge would seem to be a stretch for the Gators. Still, they have to be thinking “what if” Wilbekin didn’t get hurt. The backcourts should be a wash and even though Connecticut is coming off a strong frontcourt effort against Michigan State, the Gators’ big men should be the difference. Florida 72-67.
WISCONSIN (30-7) vs. KENTUCKY (28-10)
No. 2 Wisconsin beat No. 15 American 75-35; beat No. 7 Oregon 85-77; beat No. 6 Baylor 69-52; beat No. 1 Arizona 64-63, OT.
Frank Kaminsky has carried the Badgers to the Final Four. The 7-foot junior led Wisconsin in the four NCAA tournament games in scoring (18.5) and rebounding (6.0). He is a big man who can play inside and hit three 3-pointers as he did in the regional final, finishing with 28 points and 11 rebounds.
Bo Ryan is familiar with winning it all as he led Wisconsin-Platteville to four Division III national championships. This is his first Final Four on the Division I level. He has taken the Badgers to the NCAA tournament in each of his 13 seasons at Wisconsin. The Badgers have finished in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense in nine of the last 11 years, including finishing first in 2008 and 2012.
While Ryan’s teams have been known for their defense, this version of the Badgers not only take care of the ball — leading the nation at 8.1 per game — but they score as well. Their average of 73.9 points per game is the highest for a Wisconsin team since 1994 and it’s not just one or two players. Six Badgers led the team in scoring this season and each of them did it at least three times. No team outside the Big Ten beat the Badgers this season.
No. 8 Kentucky beat No. 9 Kansas State 56-49; beat No. 1 Wichita State 78-76; beat No. 4 Louisville 74-69; beat No. 2 Michigan 75-72
Julius Randle led the nation in double-doubles this season with his 16 points and 11 rebounds in the regional final his 24th of the season and fourth in as many NCAA tournament games. He is shooting 49.9 percent for the season and is averaging 15.1 points and 10.7 rebounds. He was selected most outstanding player in the Midwest Regional.
John Calipari is in the Final Four for the fifth time and the third with Kentucky. He led the Wildcats to the national championship in 2012. Known for his outstanding recruiting ability, he has taken a team that starts five freshmen to the Final Four, a feat last matched by Michigan’s Fab Five in 1992. Kentucky has a 34-9 record in March under Calipari and since 2005-06 no coach in Division I has as many wins as his 286 and that’s with just 49 losses.
The Wildcats were ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll based on the talented freshman class that Calipari recruited. Some rough patches saw Kentucky drop out of the Top 25 near the end of the regular season, but the Wildcats turned things around and reached the Final Four. Randle stayed steady, but the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, started taking care of the ball and the entire team picked it up on the defensive end.
It will be youth against experience, but the bigger thing to look at is the pace this game could be played at. Wisconsin averages 73.5 points per game, just under the Wildcats’ 75.4. Both teams shoot the ball at a 45 percent clip from the field and Wisconsin’s 37.5 percent from 3-point range is better than Kentucky’s 33.2. Kentucky’s four wins in the NCAA tournament have been by a total of 17 points while Wisconsin wasn’t really tested until the one-point overtime win over Arizona.
This is a different Wisconsin team than in recent years and this is a different Kentucky team than in recent weeks. Kaminsky will create matchup problems for the Wildcats especially with the injury to center Willie Cauley-Stein, their force in the middle with 106 blocks. Wisconsin 77-73.
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