Bruins Are Gator Bait

Monday night’s NCAA Championship Game featured the Florida Gators, looking for their first national championship in school history, and the UCLA Bruins, looking for a record 12th national title. The game pitted UCLA’s impenetrable defense against Florida’s high-flying, young athletes. Unlike UCLA’s previous foes in the tournament, the Gators did indeed fly past the Bruins to win the National Championship, 73-57. Two of the best young coaches in the game, Billy Donovan (Florida) and Ben Howland (UCLA), were looking for their first ever National Championship. Billy Donovan was looking to become one of the youngest coaches to win a national championship in history, while Ben Howland had the legacy of the UCLA program behind him in his quest for the title. The game got off to a fast start with the fearless Gators jumped out to a quick 11-6 lead. Sophomore guard Jordan Farmar helped keep UCLA in the game during the first ten minutes with a couple of clutch shots and key assists, but Florida expanded the lead to double digit at 25-15. Florida’s big men and two of their stellar sophomores, Joakim Noah and Al Horford, dominated the inside making several key blocks and putting the UCLA big men in critical foul trouble. Farmar continued to keep UCLA in the game with his hardnosed play, but the Gators continued to push and the lead grew to as much as a dozen before the half ended with the score 36-25.While UCLA was touted as the better defensive team, it was Florida that showed up on that end of the floor. Noah broke the blocked shots record for a championship game with five in the first half alone. Fellow Gator sophomore Corey Brewer held UCLA’s Arron Afflalo (who scored 60 points in one game this year) to zero points in the first 28 minutes of the game.”All our guys heard about for the last day and a half was how great defensively UCLA is,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “I don’t think our basketball team got a whole lot of credit about how good they are defensively.”Similar to in their Final Four game against George Mason, it was Lee Humphrey, the lone junior on the starting lineup, who put the game out of reach for the Gators. The sharp shooting junior buried three three-pointers to start the second half as Florida stretched the lead to 20 points with just 15 minutes remaining. The Bruins simply couldn’t claw back.UCLA had all the tradition, but it was the Gators with the superior talent. As put by Bruins guard Afflalo, “They played to perfection tonight.”The perfection came from Florida’s young nucleus of stars.Noah, the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, tallied 16 points, nine rebounds, three assists and the record six blocked shots. He also set records for most blocks in a Final Four (10) and most in an NCAA Tournament (29).”This is the best I’ve ever felt in my life,” Noah said. “You work so hard for these moments, and it’s so worth it. You’re like on a cloud. Not only does it feel good, it smells good. It tastes good.”Point guard Taurean Green went only 1-for-9 from the field but had eight assists and only one turnover against a previously stifling UCLA perimeter defense. “Taurean did a great job running our team,” Donovan said. “He made great decisions. He put a lot of pressure on their defense in the middle of the floor.”Humphrey, had 15 points and made 10 Final Four three-pointers, and Brewer, who had a phat stat line with 11 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals, kept the pressure on the Bruins.Noah’s supporting cast of Horford and backups Adrian Moss and Chris Richard combined for 29 points and 13 rebounds as Florida dominated the Bruins in the paint.UCLA’s stellar backcourt of Afflalo and Farmar combined to shoot a dismal 11-31. Farmar finished with a team-high 18 points and Afflalo tallied 10 points after going scoreless for the first 28 minutes.The Gators dominance was never in doubt; it was simply their night. As long as the core remains together, they are the frontrunners going into the 2006-07 season.