Storrs, CT (SportsNetwork.com) - For the first time, the Florida Gators and Connecticut Huskies will be paired up in a regular season battle, when they collide at Gampel Pavilion on Monday evening.
These teams have met once before, though the matchup came in the Sweet 16 of the 1994 NCAA Tournament. Florida won that contest by a 69-60 final en route to its first Final Four appearance.
Since a 59-53 loss to Wisconsin, the Gators have been on a tear, posting victories in five straight games to push themselves to 6-1 overall. The most recent victory wasn't an easy one, as a last-second free-throw from Dorian Finney-Smith allowed Florida to escape with 67-66 victory over in-state rival Florida State.
This contest continues a four-game homestand for the Huskies, who kicked the run of home games off with a 76-66 victory over Loyola-Maryland last time out. The win was the seventh in as many matchups for UConn, which has won three of those games by two points or fewer.
Florida never trailed in the second half, but was never able to distance itself from Florida State either, including ties on four occasions. The final time came when a pair of free-throws evened the score at 66-66 with 27 seconds to play. Finney-Smith grabbed an offensive rebound on the other end and was fouled. He then split his two free-throw attempts to seal the win for Florida.
As is the case with most nationally-ranked teams, the Gators own a solid scoring advantage (+13.6) on the season. The Gators are netting 73.6 points per game, while shooting a respectable 46.2 percent from the field. However, it is on defense where they have excelled. Florida is allowing just 60.3 points per game on 40.1 percent shooting. Casey Prather (19.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg) is netting 64 percent of his field-goal tries to lead the team in scoring. Michael Frazier II (14.4 ppg) and Finney-Smith (11.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg) are also solid contributors, though the Gators are without Kasey Hill (10.8 ppg), who is out with a left ankle sprain.
UConn's win over Loyola-Maryland was a sloppy one for the Huskies. UConn was outscored, 19-13, off turnovers and 16-10 in second chance points while being on the short end of the rebounding battle (40-39). The Huskies overcame those shortcomings with efficient shooting, netting 50.9 percent of their field-goal tries in the game.
The Huskies have an identical advantage in scoring margin this season (+13.6). UConn has been a bit better on offense, netting 77.6 points per game on just over 49 percent shooting. The Huskies have given up more points (64 pg) but are limiting foes to just 36 percent shooting from the floor. Shabazz Napier (15.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 6.1 apg) is the most important player on the roster as the leader in points, assists and rebounds. Napier had an off night against Loyola, with only four points on 2-of-7 shooting, though he did have seven assists and as many rebounds. Fellow guard Ryan Boatright (11.7 ppg, 4.1 apg) teams with Napier in a strong backcourt, while DeAndre Daniels (13.4 pg, 4.3 rpg) handles the duties up front.