As we get closer to the big UConn showdown with Florida, here is a painful memory for Huskies fans. But it’s part of the experiences that went in to what the UConn program became, and made the championships sweeter.
…. Remember the years when the Final Four seemed to be the unreachable destination? The Huskies had good teams, but fell short again, and again. One of the most frustrating of those years was 1994, when the Huskies seemed to have the road cleared and paved to the Final Four. They just had to beat Florida in the Miami Arena, then play Boston College, which had just knocked off Indiana.
But Donyell Marshall missed two free throws at the end of regulation and the Huskies lost to the Gators in overtime. I was covering the Giants beat for the Courant at that time, and as an offseason assignment, I was in New Jersey helping with our coverage of the UConn women’s team at Rutgers, where they lost to North Carolina in the regional. I remember watching the UConn-Florida men’s game on TV.
It’s the only time the Huskies and Gators have met on the court in men’s basketball. They meet again on Monday night at Gampel Pavilion, as the first part of a home-and-home agreement.
Kenny Davis was our beat writer on UConn men at the time, and from the archives, here is his account of the game, which ran in The Courant on March 26, 1994.
By KEN DAVIS
Courant Staff Writer
MIAMI – Donyell Marshall stood slumped over in front of the UConn bench, his hands on his knees and his eyes focused on the floor, as players from Florida and UConn stopped by to offer condolences.
He wasn’t thinking about the two free throws he missed at the end of regulation, the ones that would have sent UConn to the NCAA East Regional championship Sunday against Boston College. He was thinking about the end of something special.
“I just didn’t want to leave the floor,” Marshall said. “When I play basketball from now until next October, it’s just going to be for fun. It’s not going to be Connecticut against somebody else. I just didn’t want to leave the floor.”
UConn’s road to the Final Four ended Friday night, two stops short of the ultimate destination. And the roadblock came when Marshall, UConn’s All – America forward, couldn’t hit one of two free throws with the score tied.
Fourteenth – ranked Florida outscored the Huskies 12 – 3 in overtime before 15,217 at Miami Arena and upset No. 4 UConn 69 – 60 in an East semifinal, ending the Huskies’ incredible season in abrupt and disappointing fashion.
Craig Brown’s three – point basket with 1 minute, 15 seconds left gave Florida a 62 – 58 lead and the Huskies (29 – 5) could manage only a layup by Doron Sheffer.
“That was the biggest basket of my career,” Brown said. “I just came off a good screen, Dan [Cross] got me the ball and I had the open jump shot. There wasn’t a lot of pressure from my defender. He was playing me for the drive because that was what I had done the last couple of times.”
The game went into overtime when Marshall missed two free throws with 3.4 seconds left in regulation and the score tied at 57. Marshall went to the line when he was fouled by Andrew DeClercq as he attempted a 17 – foot jumper from the left baseline.
Marshall missed the first shot and Florida called timeout. The second attempt by Marshall hit the back of the rim, bounded off the front and was rebounded by DeClercq, who called another timeout.
“I’ve made shots before,” said Marshall, who had hit 5 of 6 from the line before his misses. “I felt very confident. The second one just hit the back rim and rolled out. There’s nothing you can do about that.”
The Gators inbounded with 2.4 seconds left. Travis Knight deflected DeClercq’s pass into the UConn bench and the Gators inbounded again with 1.1 seconds left. DeClercq got the ball to Dametri Hill at midcourt, but his desperation shot was no good and the game went to overtime.
Florida (28 – 7) will meet Boston College (23 – 10) Sunday for the East Regional championship and a trip to the Final Four next week in Charlotte, N.C. The Eagles, seeded ninth, upset No. 5 seed Indiana 77 – 68 in the other semifinal.
This is the farthest Florida has advanced in the tournament. The 1986 – 87 team lost to Syracuse in the East semifinals.
Marshall (16 points) gave UConn a 58 – 57 lead by hitting the second of two free throws with 3:18 left in overtime. But Jason Anderson gave Florida the lead for good with two free throws after being fouled by Ray Allen with 2:40 remaining.
The Huskies missed their next five shots from the field. Sheffer led UConn with 18 points. Brown and Cross had 17 each for the Gators.
UConn went 5 – for – 19 from the field in the second half and committed 23 turnovers in the game.
“We just didn’t complete plays,” coach Jim Calhoun said. “It was a bad time for us to have an OK offensive game in such a great, great season.”
Cross tied the score at 57 with 31.5 seconds left by hitting two free throws after he was fouled by Travis Knight. UConn had led 57 – 53 after Knight hit a follow shot with 2:37 left. But a basket by Brown with 2:09 left cut the lead to two and Cross got the opportunity to tie the score after Kevin Ollie forced an off – balance shot from the lane with 1 minute remaining.
UConn led by 10 with 14:25 left but then went cold from the field.
Florida took the lead for the first time since an early 5 – 4 advantage when DeClercq rebounded a missed free throw by Dametri Hill and scored with 5:56 left to make it 51 – 49. DeClercq was fouled by Donny Marshall and missed the free throw, but a lane violation by Donyell Marshall gave DeClercq another shot. He hit that one and the Gators led, 52 – 49.
“We just started executing better on offense,” Cross said. “We started doing little things, like boxing out. We treated every trip down the floor like it was our last one and most important one.”
Down three at that point, the Huskies were 3 – for – 13 from the field in the second half. Allen ended a drought of 9:29 from the field when he squared up from 17 feet and hit a jumper with 4:57 remaining. That pulled UConn to one and the Huskies regained the lead after Florida missed a shot and Sheffer hit both ends of a one – and – one with 4:23 left.
UConn shot 51.7 percent and held Florida to 37.5 percent from the field in the first half, but led only 34 – 28. Nine turnovers and several missed layups at the end of the half prevented the Huskies from building a bigger lead.
The sloppy play carried over to the start of the second half when UConn turned the ball over on three early possessions. But the Huskies still managed a 6 – 0 run to take a 40 – 32 lead.
“We just hit a lull at a very bad time,” Calhoun said. “This time we can’t go back to the drawing board. …I don’t know if we could play any harder, but we certainly could have played better.”