ARLINGTON, Texas. — It didn't surprise freshman guard Dominique Hawkins that teammate Aaron Harrison hit another season-saving shot Saturday night to propel Kentucky past Wisconsin and into the national title game.
The only thing that caught Hawkins off guard is the Wildcats' opponent Monday night.
"I thought Florida was going to win to be honest," Hawkins said, "but UConn is a great team too."
Forgive Kentucky players if they're a bit surprised season-long nemesis Florida isn't waiting for them because that would have been particularly fitting. What better way for Kentucky to finish its quest for redemption after a disappointing regular season than by defeating the team that won the SEC, earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament and beat the Wildcats three times already?
Instead Kentucky draws UConn, which vanquished the Gators 63-53 on Sunday night behind stifling defense and 20 points from forward Deandre Daniels. That was the Huskies' second victory over Florida this season, an accomplishment sure to draw the attention of the Wildcats considering their struggles with the Gators.
It's hard to say whether Kentucky is better off drawing the Huskies than the Gators.
On one hand, Kentucky has a major size advantage in the backcourt and could impose its will on the offensive glass since the Wildcats are one of the nation's best offensive rebounding teams and the Huskies give up a lot of second-chance points. On the other hand, UConn has a handful of capable scorers and its perimeter defense looked formidable in holding Florida to 38.8 percent shooting.
"We have been playing great defense all year," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "We have been holding our opponents under 39 percent, and you know that's one of our goals. So that's been throughout the whole year we have been playing outstanding defense.
The matchup between Kentucky and UConn certainly isn't one many predicted before the tournament began. It pits a No.7 seed and No. 8 seed for the first time, though this is hardly a typical matchup of underdogs considering Kentucky started No. 1, UConn began No. 18 and both have won national titles in the past three years.
So are the rest of the Wildcats as surprised as Hawkins that the Gators are going home to Gainesville?
"Thinking of this whole tournament, you can't be surprised by anything anymore," forward Marcus Lee said. "Every bracket has just been destroyed."
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