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Florida got Shabazzed, but Gators have a lot to like

Dec 2, 2013, 10:10 PM EDT

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Louisville v Florida Getty Images

The No. 15 Florida Gators showed late-game resiliency, senior leadership and an ability to make key plays in big moments as they played on the road at Gampel Pavilion and scored on their final possession — a beautiful cut and layup by Michael Frazier II off an assist from Casey Prather — against No. 12 UConn.

Then Shabazz Napier happened.

The Gators can’t really hang their head on one of college basketball’s most clutch players knocking down a shot in his home building. Florida has too much to take away from this loss and a brutal upcoming schedule can’t leave them sulking.

Struggling with offense for much of the season, senior center Patric Young had 17 points and seven rebounds and his three-point play with 1:18 left was his third go-to bucket in the post in the game’s final minutes. Young contributed to Philip Nolan and Tyler Olander fouling out and on that three-point play with 1:18 left, the senior sank the free throw to go 5-for-7 for the day on the road as a 55 percent foul shooter.

His touch is off at times and he isn’t as fluid as he used to be, but Young plays hard, is a decent passer out of the post and his two interceptions of UConn passes on defense made it appear as though an NFL career might be more feasible following this season in Gainesville.

But for now, the Gators will take that performance from Young every time they can.

Casey Prather also continued his unlikely rise as the SEC’s current best scoring threat. The senior forward is averaging 19.1 points per game and hit that number 19 on the head against UConn while contributing seven rebounds and three assists.

At times Prather appeared unguardable in the second half.

The best part about Prather’s scoring ability against UConn was his aggression getting to the basket and trying to score inside. Prather attempted no three-pointers — the Gators were 3-for-9 for the game as a team — and was 8-for-13 from the field, using hesitation moves, and some straight-line attacks to the rack to score.

Scottie Wilbekin also made some plays for the Gators, but he’ll need to be more consistent handling the ball as he makes his comeback from his early season suspension. The senior point guard made some critical turnovers in the second half, including a jump pass that resulted in a UConn fast-break bucket and a botched 3-on-2 break that resulted in an awkward shot and a bailout foul on the ensuing Florida offensive rebound.

But for Wilbekin’s inconsistencies, he’ll also be aided by the return of freshman point guard and McDonald’s All-American Kasey Hill — who has been out since November 16th and could return soon — and continued playing time in this early season. The Gators had 16 turnovers to eight assists as a team and struggled on offense at times.

But Florida has been in some big games that have gone to the wire already this season, winning 67-66 over in-state rival Florida State and now with this loss to UConn and they can’t think about this loss too much as their next two games come against Kansas and Memphis on December 10th and 17th respectively.

The Gators are playing at a high level and one of those two games could be close going late into the game as well. And Florida isn’t even into the SEC portion of the schedule yet.

As long as their seniors step up and they integrate Kasey Hill into the lineup, this Florida team can be really good.

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