Random Thoughts, Numbers From A Championship

On their road to the NCAA basketball championship, the Florida Gators silenced the doubters at every stop. At one point or another, they were considered too young, too inexperienced, not quick enough, or not good enough defensively to win the big prize. When the final horn sounded Monday might in Indianapolis, it was Florida confounded the experts and was the last team standing. Here are some random thoughts along the tournament trail.

At each stop along the way of Florida's tournament march that began with a second straight Southeastern Conference Tournament championship in Nashville, there was talk that Lee Humphrey was the weak link in the Florida lineup. He was considered a three-point bomber with very little ability to put the ball on the floor and a defensive liability. At every stop along the way, Humphrey made the doubters pay dearly.

In the SEC Tournament, Arkansas figured Humphrey would repeat that 2-11 game he had from the field back in February when the Razorbacks beat the Gators in overtime in Fayette-Nam. So they gave him room to shoot and he promptly torched them for a career-high 25 points including 6-9 from three-ball land. The next day against LSU, he held Garrett Temple to a 1-6 performance from the field including 0-4 from three-point range. In the SEC final against South Carolina, Humphrey locked down on three-point specialist Bryce Sheldon, holding him to three points on 1-5 from beyond the arc.

Next stop was Jacksonville for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Height challenged South Alabama had to pick its poison and chose to lay off Humphrey to try to double down on Al Horford and Joakim Noah. LeeHump bombed away for 20 points, 6-8 from behind the three-point line. That opened it up for Horford and Noah to combine for 30 points. Wisconsin-Milwaukee guard Boo Davis was said to be too quick and too tall for Humphrey in round two. Humphrey locked him down, holding him to a 3-12 game from the field. Humphrey forced Davis inside the arc where the tall timbers were intimidating.

In Minneapolis, the Big East media harped on the quickness advantage of the guards from Georgetown and Villanova. Humphrey held Jonathon Wallace to a 1-4 night from the three-point line and three points overall. Humphrey took on Nova's ultra-quick Kelly Lowry in the first half of the regional final and in the second half, he did a lock down job on Randy Foye. Foye scored 25 points in the game but it took 19 shots to get there and most of the shots he took were bad ones.

That brought us to Indianapolis where the talk was how the George Mason guards would take Humphrey out of his offensive game and take him to the rack time and time again with their quickness. Humphrey scored 19 points on 6-12 shooting from beyond the arc and he held Lamar Butler to eight points, zip from the three-point line.

Then came the championship game against UCLA. Again, the talk was how Humphrey was too slow to defend the UCLA guards and wouldn't be able to score against the too tight UCLA defense. Jordan Farmar scored 18 on Humphrey but it took 21 shots to get there and there were only six points after halftime. Humphrey meanwhile knocked down four three-pointers and scored 15 points.

It's funny how nobody along the way paid any attention to what Billy Donovan said all year about LeeHump and his defense. Donovan called Humphrey his best and most consistent all-around defender, the one guy on the team that couldn't be broken down fundamentally.

Corey Brewer, who was the SEC co-defensive player of the year, said he couldn't understand how teams kept overlooking Humphrey as a defender.

"Maybe they don't look at the film," Brewer said. "LeeHump can play some defense."

Noah, who set the NCAA record for 29 blocked shots in the tournament, said, "Humpty is a monster on D."

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The same national media that declared Florida the favorite in the days prior to the Final Four instantly jumped on the UCLA bandwagon after the Bruins torched LSU in the semifinals. With the exception of the ESPN crew --- all of whom except Digger went with the Gators --- the national media pretty much abandoned Florida's ship and gravitated to UCLA all because the Bruins had held both Memphis and LSU to 45 points each.

It was kind of comical.

Obviously, none of them bothered to look at how Florida had dismantled LSU twice (once in the regular season, the other time in the SEC Tournament). On both occasions, Florida took Daryl Mitchell out of the game and that pretty much was it for LSU offensively. He was their catalyst and any time he had a bad game, LSU had a bad game.

Mitchell had a bad game against UCLA and part of it was due to the UCLA defense, but badly overlooked was the fact that teams that don't have much outside game always fare badly against the Bruins. Memphis really had only one outside threat in Darius Washington and when he was neutralized, it was curtains for the Tigers. The same thing happened with LSU. Mitchell was neutralized and that was that.

Florida had three effective outside scorers in Humphrey, Brewer and Taurean Green and if one of them was off in any game, the Gators still had firepower to stretch the defense. When Brewer and Humphrey hit three-balls early to complement what Noah and Horford were doing on the inside, it was pretty much a countdown until the final horn and a Florida victory. Florida had UCLA's number from the start. If the Bruins tried to double down to help on Noah and Horford, Humphrey and Brewer killed them. If they tried to cover Hump and Brewski (sounds like a detective show from the 70s), Horford and Noah killed them on the inside.

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In the lobby of the Hyatt Hotel prior to the championship game, Jerry Tarkanian (ex-UNLV) and Nolan Richardson (ex-Arkansas) held court. They signed a lot of autographs and posed for a lot of photos, but they also talked about how impressed they were with Taurean Green.

"He's the guy who holds Florida together," said Tark, who coached Taurean's dad, Sidney at UNLV. "If you can't take him out of the game, you have no chance to beat Florida."

Tark said it still hurts when he thinks of that 1977 team that featured Sidney and Reggie Theus. That was the year the Rebels came into the semifinals of the Final Four ranked number one in the country to face a North Carolina team that was playing without injured Tommy LaGarde (6-11 center) and had Walter Davis (broken index finger in a splint) and Phil Ford (dislocated elbow on his shooting arm in the regional final against Kentucky) severely limited.

"They shot 28 free throws that game and we shot five," said Tark. "You do the math. I still think we had the best team in the country."

Richardson felt that Florida's two keys were keeping Green in the game and playing defense on the perimeter.

"Green does so many things for Florida," said Richardson, who says he is content in retirement. "He makes the right decisions with the ball and he doesn't get rattled. He doesn't have to score to be effective for them.

"Defensively, Florida is really under-rated. They can afford to play you tight on the perimeter because they have such help in the lane with Noah and Horford. Green's very under-rated as a defensive player and so is Humphrey."

* * *

Just how dominant were the Gators in their run to the NCAA title? Consider this: in six NCAA games, the Gators were behind a grand total of 19:34 and 14:19 of that was in the 57-53 win over Georgetown.

The Gators never trailed to South Alabama. They were tied at 5-5 against Wisconsin-Milwaukee but never trailed.

Against Georgetown, they faced their largest deficit of the tournament, nine points (21-12) and that was the only game Florida trailed at the half (30-28). The Gators got the lead (31-30) one minute into the second half but trailed briefly twice (51-49 and 53-52, total of 1:44) late in the game.

The Gators trailed Villanova in the first half for 3:12 with their largest deficit in that game three points (14-11) with 14:37 left in the half.

Against George Mason, the Gators trailed 2-0 and that lead lasted all of 46 seconds. In the championship game, the Gators trailed UCLA 2-0 and 4-2 and were behind all of 1:17.

* * *

The further the Gators got into the NCAA Tournament, the more dominating they were defensively. In rounds one and two, South Alabama and Wisconsin-Milwaukee were a combined 16-40 (40 percent) from the three-point line. In the Minneapolis Regional, Georgetown and Villanova were a combined 9-38 and at the Final Four, George Mason and UCLA were a combined 5-28.

In the six NCAA games, only George Mason finished above 40 percent from the field (41.8 percent). Villanova was the worst --- 24.7 percent.

The Gators blocked 47 shots in six NCAA games with 10 in the championship game against UCLA. Florida only blocked four against George Mason, the Gators' lowest total of the tournament. Opponents blocked only 19 Florida shots.

* * *

All five of Florida's starters averaged in double figures with Noah topping Florida with a 14.2 average. Green averaged 13.3, Brewer 12.7, Horford 11.3 and Humphrey 10.9. All five of Florida's starters scored more than 400 points for the season.

The Gators finished in the top 25 nationally in these statistical categories: scoring offense (22, 78.3 points per game); scoring margin (3, 14.7 points per game); field goal percentage (2, 50.0%); field goal percentage defense (21, 39.8%); three-point field goal percentage (15, 39.2%); assists per game (17, 16.7 per game) and blocked shots (22, 5.3 per game).

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