ARLINGTON, Texas — Florida carried the weight of expectations into this NCAA Tournament, and especially into the Final Four. A 30-game winning streak will do that.
Ultimately, the Gators were unable to bear that weight, not to mention UConn's defense. After their 63-53 loss in the semifinals, they found themselves in an even more uncomfortable position of having to explain it.
"It's really tough, I can't explain right now how I feel," said Patric Young, Florida's 6-foot-9 center, "because it just hasn't hit me, that these guys next to me [on the podium] and in the locker room are never going to be together the same way again."
The Gators, like the Huskies, are a team with a lot of seniors who have been through some tough shared experiences. They lost three times in the Elite Eight, and came into this season thinned with injuries and ineligible players.
But they played better and better as the season went on, beat Kentucky three times and were being talked about as perhaps the best college team in a long time.
"We're a great team, I think," Will Yeguette said. "We accomplished a lot of things during the year. Going to the Final Four is something special as well."
The players and coach Billy Donovan were gracious in crediting UConn for its tenacious defense, but remained proud of their season.
"The No. 1 question I ask myself after every year," Donovan said, "is, 'Did our team play as close as possible to its potential?' Maybe more so than any team I've ever coached, based on the talent level, we played way beyond our potential. The whole has been better than the parts."
Scottie Wilbekin, Florida's point guard, went 2-for-9 with one assist and three turnovers. Donovan reminded him of his own Final Four experience as a player with Providence.
"I just told Scottie I went through the same thing in the Final Four that he just went through," Donovan said. "So much of our offense was based on the ball being in my hands and making plays. I remember my senior year playing against Sherman Douglas [of Syracuse] and struggling to do that. [Wilbekin] had a really, really hard time getting in the lane around [Ryan] Boatright, a hard time getting around [Shabazz] Napier, which inevitably made our offense very, very difficult."
The Huskies used nine players in the game, with foul trouble forcing coach Kevin Ollie to play Tyler Olander for five minutes in the second half. Olander, Napier and Niels Giffey will be the first class of UConn seniors to play in two championship games.
"You don't really think it's possible," Olander said, "but the more you grow with guys like Shabazz and Niels, with their determination, you can't really count anything out. Hopefully, we can be the first to win two national championships." … UConn is the third team seeded No. 7 or lower to reach the final since the field expanded to 64 in 1985. Butler did it as a No. 8 in 2011, and Villanova as a No. 8 in 1985, and, of course, Villanova beat Georgetown for the title. Butler lost to UConn. … With Florida's loss, this is the second time in eight years that the national championship game will not have a No. 1 seed. … Florida's three assists were tied for the fourth fewest in a national semifinal. … UConn's 7-1 record in Final Four games is the highest winning percentage (.875) of any school in tournament history. … Ollie is the first coach to reach a championship game within his first two seasons since Indiana's Mike Davis as an interim coach in 2002.Copyright © 2015, CT Now