Like an old photo or home movie you take out when someone needs a smile, coach Kevin Ollie kept the tape of UConn’s victory over Florida handy.
When the Huskies got to thinking they couldn’t, here was proof that they could — and did — hang with and beat the best.
“We took a lot from that game,” Ollie said. “The resiliency that we had: We got down, we came back and we played scrappy.”
The Huskies were unbeaten when they played Florida at Gampel Pavilion on Dec. 2 in a game that swung back and forth. UConn got close at the end and won 65-64 on Shabazz Napier’s shot at the buzzer. The shot was created by a fortuitous bounce to Napier, but the game was won because UConn had the tenacity to stay in it to the end.
“Coach showed us the tape before we started winning these games,” Ryan Boatright said after UConn defeated Michigan State to get a spot in the Final Four. “And we got back together. That tape is crazy. We were everywhere, helping each other.”
It could be considered a parallel to the Huskies’ experiences of 2010-11, when they showed an early flash of how good they could be, beating Michigan State and Kentucky to win the Maui Invitational, then struggled to return to that level throughout the season. They finally caught the spark again in March, winning 11 in a row to win the national championship.
A lot has changed in the four months since the win against Florida. The Huskies, who were ranked ninth after that game, lost eight games, tumbling out of the rankings. Florida has played 30 games since and won them all.
The Gators are ranked No. 1 and were the overall No. 1 seed in the 68-team field.
Tournament fate has brought UConn and Florida back together to play in the NCAA semifinals Saturday in Arlington, Texas, at 6:09 p.m.