DeAndre Comes Through With A Giant Of A Game

UConn's DeAndre Daniels celebrates after hitting a three-pointer in the second half as UConn pulled ahead. (Stephen Dunn)

— The talent is unmistakable, a long body capable of delivering points on an outside jump shot or amid traffic near the basket.

DeAndre Daniels has been tantalizingly good for the UConn Huskies. Yet there were games when he did little to distinguish himself and hardly looked like the highly touted recruit who arrived three years ago.

But in the biggest game of the season, Daniels was the best player on the court. With the No. 1-ranked Florida Gators determined to stifle UConn's spiritual leader, Shabazz Napier, Daniels was assertive and relentless.

By the time UConn completed a 63-53 upset Saturday night in the Final Four at AT&T Stadium, Daniels had a line that jumped off the stat sheet — 20 points, 10 rebounds and two three-pointers in 40 minutes.

This is the heralded player who came to Connecticut from Los Angeles by way of the postgraduate IMG Academy in Florida. This is the player expected to have such a bright future in the NBA.

"He played well for us," Napier said. "It is so good to have him there because his shots help all of us out, and we know that he is going to come in and take care of it. He has been doing it the whole year, and I am so happy for him."

The 6-foot-9 Daniels came to UConn as a quiet, somewhat passive presence. He has played well this season, posting 31 points and 12 rebounds in a win over Temple in January.

But just when it seemed Daniels was stepping out, he suffered a high ankle sprain. He missed two games, but the injury bothered him throughout February.

In fact, Daniels recently said he is still not 100 percent. But he feels good enough.

Against Florida, he was better than he's been all season.

"I just wanted to step up big-time," Daniels said. "I talked to Coach [Jim] Calhoun and he was like, 'Man, nobody is talking about you.' All I said was not to worry about it because everybody is going to be talking about me after today."

Napier was viewed as the key to the game. If Florida would contain Napier, the Gators would win.

Instead, Napier distributed the ball and helped spark a comeback from a 16-4 first-half deficit. And as the Huskies charged back, Daniels scored 10 of UConn's 25 first-half points.

"We've been saying all year that we've got a complete team," guard Ryan Boatright said. "They were double-teaming Shabazz a lot, and the unselfish player that he is, he was just giving it up, making plays for his teammates. Everybody stepped up."

Daniels had eight points, including the two three-pointers, as UConn outscored Florida 21-6 in the final 8:51 of the first half. He scored 10 points in the second half, when UConn withstood a Florida run.

"DeAndre was huge for us," coach Kevin Ollie said. "He stepped up and really rebounded for us and was pretty much unstoppable."

A night like this, on such a huge stage, must have NBA scouts excited. Daniels certainly has a future in the league, but his father, Larson, has been a strong advocate of DeAndre's staying at UConn for four years.

Now, Daniels and UConn are one victory from a national championship. No one saw this coming.

"We've been doubted the whole season and definitely heading into the tournament," Daniels said. "People didn't have us winning the first game. That's what drives us. When people say that, we just like to go out and prove people wrong and let them know that UConn is back on top."