All eyes on the point guards

All eyes on the point guards

The Gators know who the focus of their attention is on the Connecticut roster. And after the Huskies finish their game preparation for Saturday's national semifinal, they'll likely come to the same conclusion about Florida. It all comes down to the point guard position, as Shabazz Napier and Scottie Wilbekin prepare to battle for a chance to win the national championship.

The prospect of Shabazz Napier taking over a game is a familiar one for Florida. All of Connecticut's opponents in the NCAA Tournament have fallen victim to the same thing the Gators saw on December 2. When Napier takes over a game, it's tough to beat the Huskies.

The senior point guard went for 26 points against the Gators in the regular season meeting, knocking down a jumper from the free throw line as time expired to give Connecticut the win. He thrives when the pressure is on and when the Huskies need a basket the most.

"He's done it a lot," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "He is a great scorer. He can do it by himself. He doesn't need necessarily a lot of help or a lot of screening. He's been a big shot maker his whole entire career. Napier is one of those guys that's been in college for four years, he has evolved into an elite guard in this country, as good as anybody out there.

"Against us he made some really big shots coming down the stretch. He made a three point shot we fouled him on. It was a four point play, and then obviously, he made the game winner. He's a terrific player that's had a great year."

Napier's ability to hit the clutch shot was evident in his team's early December win over Florida, and other teams have seen it during the tournament. Whenever Michigan State went on a run in the regional final, the senior guard was quick to provide the big shot that kept his team from getting too far behind.

When the ball bounced perfectly to him as the final seconds ticked off the clock in December, he found a way for one more dramatic moment. If he could go back in time, there's nothing Donovan would've changed about the play. The Gators played great defense to force a tough shot the first time, but a fluky bounce out to Napier gave him the look he needed to win the game.

"We did a great job on that," Donovan said. "We got him to take a tough, off balance shot. He's just a terrific offensive player. We got him to take about as difficult of a shot as we could."

The hope for Florida is that it now has a clutch scorer of its own. Even after 15 points in 35 minutes played during the first meeting, point guard Scottie Wilbekin is a different player now. He's scoring at a higher clip during this portion of the schedule, and after his early-season suspension, Wilbekin has turned into the go-to guy late in the game.

It's exactly what Florida teams have missed during the last three years and what got those teams eliminated after reaching the Elite Eight. The Gators didn't have a player that could create his own shot and hit it when momentum started to swing to the other bench. Wilbekin has proved in recent weeks that he is that type of player for the Gators.

"He's got an enormous amount of confidence in himself," Donovan said. "But there are guys that can have that kind of confidence and not have a real good awareness. What I mean by that is when you're in those situations, if you were just determined to shoot the basketball regardless of what the defense does and you've got other guys open for shots, that's not good. There are certain guys that have an ego that they want to take the last shot. They want to be the hero. A lot of times taking the last shot may or may not be the right play."

The open looks for Wilbekin have come, mostly after he creates them for himself. When they happen, there isn't any hesitation. The senior point guard wants to make the play and has cashed in on the opportunity more often than not recently.

"I just have confidence that I can take a shot in late-clock situations and have confidence that it can go in," Wilbekin said. "The main thing is just to not be afraid that if you miss you're going to let your teammates down or anything like that. The whole team has confidence in each other, so we have confidence that the person taking the shot will take their best look and not be scared of the moment or scared of the shot."

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