I have seen several UCLA games and they never shot the ball as well as they did against LSU… at least not in the games I've seen. For the year, they are a surprisingly solid 48 percent from the field and 35 percent from long range. UCLA averages 68 points a game, ten fewer than the Gators, and they have not reached the 80-point mark since early February (15 games). But keep in mind, they are 13-and-2 in those games and have won their last twelve games.
It's interesting to me that both teams are 32-and-6 on the year. Both got hot late in the year and brought momentum into the conference tournaments that they won. Both lost two regular season match ups with a conference rival. For Florida it was South Carolina, for the Bruins, Washington.
Looking at the Bruins Personnel
UCLA's strength is in the backcourt where Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo combine for 29 points a game. The two guards have plenty of size (6'5", 6'2") and offer strength and defensive tenacity. They have combined for 74 more rebounds than Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey and score about five more points a game. Afflalo really impressed me with his 4.3 rebounds a night and excellent shot selection.
The front court is a clear Gator advantage with UCLA's seven footer Ryan Hollins (4.6/6.9) seemingly overmatched. However the wild card is 6'7" forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. The native of Cameroon may be immune to anything Joakim's grandfather might throw at him. Mbah a Moute was sensational against LSU and has been a consistent performer all year long (9.2/8.1). Cedric Bozeman is a senior who considered UF in the recruiting process, but he's not a difference maker.
UCLA is a deep basketball team so depth and fatigue should not be factors. The Bruins have ten players averaging 3.5 points a game or more; that's three more than UF can offer. UCLA had tough games with Alabama and Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.
OK Offense Backed by Great "D"
While UCLA is capable on the offensive end, it's not their ability to score the ball that will keep Billy Donovan and his staff up all night. UCLA's greatest strength is its defense which can be absolutely suffocating. They held an incredibly talented Memphis team to 45 in the Regional Final and then did the same to LSU Saturday night. In their 12-game winning streak, only one team (Gonzaga, 71) has topped the 60-point mark.
They don't block a lot of shots or force a ton of turnovers. What UCLA does is make you work on every possession and force you into rushed shots. Teams have had success against them when they didn't panic with ten seconds left on the shot clock.
Five Keys to Cutting Down the Nets
- Score Early ----- UCLA is a great front-runner and they really feed off defensive success. They also struggle when other teams are having their way as evidenced by their big deficit to Gonzaga. Gators need to come out smoking and let the Bruins know they can handle what's being thrown at them.
- Deny the "3" ----- Farmar and Afflalo are good, but not great three point shooters. The Gators have allowed just 28 percent from beyond the arc in the tournament. One more day of that would be nice.
- Get the ball inside ----- The Gators can't let LSU's failures in the paint spook them out of their game. The Gators must force UCLA's big men to work hard on the defensive end and take advantage of the exception offensive talents of Noah and Horford.
- Watch the fouls ----- All year long the biggest concern for the Gators has been their ability to play without Taurean Green. Well, this is the final game where that lecture should need to be delivered. As strong as UCLA is with its perimeter defense, it's an absolute must that Green be out there almost the entire night.
- Keep on the boards ----- The Gators have been plus-13 on the glass each of the last two games and are plus-eight a game in the tournament. UCLA is plus five over the course of the season. Florida's ability to get easy baskets will be largely determined by their success on the defensive boards.
This season has been an amazing an exhilarating ride for those of us who follow the Florida Basketball program. It pains me to be watching this one from afar because the Gators in my mind have a better chance to win it all tomorrow than they did on April 3rd on the very same floor in 2000.
UCLA is a team to be respected, and they are a superb team when they shoot well. The Gators need to make sure they don't. Because if the Bruins don't shoot a high percentage, the Gators will be cutting down the nets.