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Final Four: Blue chips with chips on shoulder

Published March 30, 2014 11:36 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The road to redemption goes through north Texas for a fearsome Final Four of power programs with something to prove.

Florida, the top overall seed, returns to the Final Four for the first time since winning consecutive titles in 2006-07, this time without all those first-round NBA picks.

Waiting for the Gators at Jerry Jones' billion-dollar stadium on Saturday will be Connecticut, back near the top of the bracket under Kevin Ollie after being barred a year ago for academic problems.

Wisconsin and coach Bo Ryan will be there, too, finally in the Final Four after so many near-misses.

Facing the Badgers in the other national semifinal will be all those Kentucky kids, once written off as too young and inexperienced to play for a title before they head off to the NBA.

This Final Four contains no upstarts or mid-major party crashers, just big boys with big chips on their shoulders.

Donovan won a pair of national titles in Gainesville with Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer and Al Horford, all top-10 NBA picks in the 2007 NBA draft.

Donovan continued to produce winning teams at Florida, but the Gators lost in the regional final each of the past three seasons. That changed when the ferocious Gators (36-2) rode their chomping defense through a 30-game winning streak capped by Saturday's 62-52 win over bracket darling Dayton.

To win another title, the Gators will have to go through the last two teams to beat them this season (UConn and Wisconsin) or their biggest SEC rival (Kentucky).

The Huskies won the 2011 national title with coach Jim Calhoun and one-man show Kemba Walker.

Things went sour in Storrs after that. Calhoun retired in 2012 and UConn was barred from the NCAA tournament last season for failing to meet the NCAA's academic progress measure.

UConn's upperclassmen decided to stick it out instead of transferring and put together another magical bracket run behind another do-it-all-player, former Walker understudy Napier. With their 60-54 win over Michigan State on Sunday, the Huskies (30-8) became the first No. 7 seed to reach the Final Four since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

Then there's Bo.

Wisconsin's tell-it-like-it-is coach has won more than 700 games and reached the NCAA tournament 13 straight years, but this is his first trip to the Final Four. —

Final Four

P Saturday• Connecticut vs. Florida, 4:09 p.m.• Kentucky vs. Wisconsin, 6:49 p.m.

TV • TBS