ARLINGTON, Texas — Florida senior forward Casey Prather sat at his locker inside AT&T Stadium, his eyes red from crying, and tried to put his heartbreak into words. Freshman guard Kasey Hill couldn't hold back the tears.
For the first time in 30 games, the Florida Gators felt defeat Saturday night, and it came in the biggest game of the season.
The No. 1 overall seed Gators' record-setting season came to an end at AT&T Stadium with a 63-53 loss to No. 7 seed Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament national semifinal.
It was Florida's first loss since UConn (31-8) beat the Gators (36-3) Dec. 2 in the regular season.
"Certainly we would have loved to have played on Monday night (championship game), but I told them before the game the team that plays the best is going to play on Monday night," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I thought UConn played better than we did. Unfortunately, for us I didn't think it was one of our better games."
In fact, it was one of their worst.
The 22 first-half points were their fewest this season, and the Gators' 53 points tied the fewest in the NCAA Tournament for the Gators' four seniors. Florida shot 1-of-10 from 3-point range and 38.8 percent from the field, and had three assists and 11 turnovers.
"It just wasn't there for us tonight," said Hill, who had seven points and four rebounds. "We just couldn't get it done."
Senior guard Scottie Wilbekin, who carried the Gators all season and was their best offensive player through the tournament, was hampered by cramps and struggled offensively. He shot 2-of-9, did not hit a 3-pointer and had just one assist.
Tampa's Michael Frazier, who set a school 3-pointer record this season, hit one on UF's first possession then didn't score again, tying his season low.
"On offense, we just couldn't really get anything going," Wilbekin said. "They were being really aggressive and we couldn't really get into our offense. We weren't moving the ball as well. A couple of us were having bad shooting nights."
For a team whose defense has been its staple all season, the Gators struggled there, too. UConn shot 55.8 percent from the field and 41.7 percent on 3-pointers. Florida let a 12-point first half lead evaporate, trailed by three at halftime and never led again. UConn outscored the Gators 59-37 after being down by 12.
Florida had hoped to use its size advantage inside, but was outscored 36-24 in the paint. Senior center Patric Young led the Gators with 19 points and five rebounds and Prather added 15 points and six rebounds.
"I really just wanted our guys to get a fire in their eyes and realize this game was going to be for the rest of their lives," Young said. "I just felt like we were a step slow today. I didn't see it in our guys' eyes."
UConn forward DeAndre Daniels, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds, said: "We feel like we have been doubted the whole season. We like to go out and try to prove people wrong."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]