UCLA Loses to Florida in Final

The Florida Gators proved they were the best team in the country Monday night in the NCAA Championship game, beating the Bruins, 73-57, cutting up UCLA's normally terrific defense...

The Florida Gators (33-6) went through, over and past the UCLA Bruins (32-7) to win its first ever national championship Monday night in Indianapolis, 73-57.

The Gators took control of the game early, outscoring UCLA 9-2 after spotting the Bruins a 4-2 lead 2 minutes into the game. The score was 11-6 Florida at the first TV timeout with 15:43 to go in the first half and the Gators never looked back after that. Joakim Noah and Al Horford dominated the Bruins inside while Corey Brewer, Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green did the same on the perimeter. Florida seemed able to run its offense at will, defying UCLA's normally terrific defense with a shrug. The Gators do a great job of playing inside-outside and they're much quicker and more athletic than the Bruins. Both Noah and Horford are mobile and savvy, with good ball-handling and passing skills for big men, negating UCLA's efforts to double team the ball in the post. Usually, a UCLA double team inside led to an easy Florida dunk by the weak side post player off an excellent pass from the player who was double teamed. With Green running the point in a flawless performance, Florida was able to feed it inside for easy looks or kick it back out for open shots from beyond the 3-point arc. Nothing the Bruins tried to do on defense seemed to work.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Bruins turned it over 8 times in the first half and ran into Noah's dominating shot blocking abilities again and again. For the first time this season, the Bruins seemed intimidated and unsure of themselves. Between the 11:37 and 7:30 marks of the first half, Florida increased a 17-11 lead to a 28-17 lead. Thereafter, UCLA was unable to cut the Gators' lead into single digits. Only some clutch shooting by Jordan Farmar and Ryan Hollins kept the Bruins in striking distance as Florida took a 36-25 lead into halftime. Arron Afflalo, the Bruins' leading scorer, failed to score in the first half as the 6-8 Brewer just locked him up in a way that Afflalo is used to doing to other players. Noah registered 5 blocks in the half as the Bruins shot just 30% from the floor.

In the second half, Florida continued its excellent play at both ends of the court and quickly built up its lead, going on another 9-2 run to open the half to boost its advantage to 45-27 with just over 16 minutes left to play. Florida quickly built a 20-point lead and maintained that advantage until there was just 10 minutes left to play in the game. UCLA usually comes out strong to start the second half of games, but they were unable to do so against Florida's stifling defense. And they were constantly back on their heels trying to stifle Florida's offense. When Afflalo finally scored his first 2 points, on a pair of free throws, only 11:28 remained in the game. Farmar and Afflalo carried the Bruins after that point, with Farmar scoring 7 second half points and Afflalo registering 10, but the Bruins were unable to cut Florida's margin below 12 points.

Florida got excellent production off its bench with Chris Richard and Adrian Moss playing extremely well in reserve. UCLA was never able to wear down the Gators, as they had done to so many opponents this season and in the tournament. The Gators are simply a very talented team, in great condition, and committed to total team play at both ends of the floor. With UCLA unable to tire out Florida and the Gators playing with precision on offense (just 6 turnovers for the entire game) and with superior rotation on defense, it became a question of pure talent, and in that regard the Gators simply held a strong advantage. The Bruins played with passion and intensity throughout the second half and never gave up, but they were simply outclassed by the Gators in all aspects of the game. The Gators stuck to their tough man defense through most of the game, occasionally mixing in some zone and full-court pressure, and the Bruins were never able to put on any real scoring runs to make a game of it. The Bruins ended the game shooting just 36% from the floor.

For UCLA, Farmar led the way with 19 points, 4 assists and only 1 turnover as he played one of his best games of the season (these are my stats, not the official stats). Afflalo and Hollins both finished with 10 points, and Hollins grabbed 10 rebounds as well. Cedric Bozeman scored 9 points and grabbed 3 rebounds. Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, who seemed a little overwhelmed by Florida's taller, stronger inside players, got 6 points and 9 rebounds. Lorenzo Mata had 2 points and 5 rebounds off the bench and Alfred Aboya added 2 points and 3 rebounds. Neither Darren Collison nor Mike Roll scored, as the Bruins' bench played perhaps its poorest game of the year.

For Florida, Noah led the way with 16 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 7 blocks in a superb all-around performance. Horford provided 14 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks. 6-9 reserve Adrian Moss contributed 9 points and 6 rebounds and another 6-9 reserve, Chris Richard, got 6 points and a block, so you can see how Florida dominated the game inside the paint. On the perimeter, Brewer played an excellent all-around game, adding 11 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists to his great defense against Afflalo. Humphrey got loose for 4 3-pointers and scored 14 points. Green ran the point without making a turnover and finished with 2 points and 8 assists.

There really isn't much analysis to a game like this. Playing with passion and focus, Florida was simply too much for UCLA to handle. It's pointless to speculate whether the Bruins might have given the Gators more of a contest by playing a zone defense or applying full-court pressure d for much of the game. Florida's potent inside-outside attack and great discipline and unselfish play would seemingly negate anything the Bruins tried to do. I don't see what Ben Howland could have done differently in preparing his team to play the Gators. Committed to total, unselfish team play, Florida simply had too much quickness, athleticism and skills for the Bruins to handle. Florida has a great coach of its own in Billy Donovan, and one imagines he would have prepared his team to handle anything the Bruins threw at them.

If he wants to beat a team like Florida in the future, Howland will need better players, quicker players, more athletic players and perhaps more experienced players. UCLA's experience and skill level will increase next season, but the Bruins will still lack great quickness and athleticism. It's a testament to Howland's abilities as a coach and the dedication, intensity and commitment to team play at both ends of the floor by his players that enabled the Bruins to get this far. Neither Howland nor his team has anything to be ashamed about in this game or for the year. The young Bruins came together as a team with a capital "T" and we can expect UCLA to be back in the hunt for a national title next year. Of course, unless Noah turns pro this summer, Florida returns its entire starting lineup and will be considered the prohibitive favorite to repeat as national champions next season, but the word is that he will.

The Bruins had a great run this season and now thoughts turn to next year. Both Cedric Bozeman and Ryan Hollins have played their final game as Bruins and both will be missed next season. The Bruins add Josh Shipp, who might actually be the best player on the team when healthy, although it's unlikely that he will bring the kind of defensive effort that Bozeman did this year. Lorenzo Mata will likely improve over the off-season and fill in admirably for Hollins, and the Bruins will look to improvement from Ryan Wright and Alfred Aboya as well to boost their post presence. It's easy to surmise that all of UCLA's returning players will come back as better players next year. James Keefe and possibly Marko Spica should strengthen UCLA's inside game further and give UCLA more diverse skills at the 4 and 5 positions. Guards Farmar, Afflalo, Collison and Roll should again give UCLA one of the top backcourts in the country next season. A lack of great quickness and athleticism could continue to be an Achilles' heel against the Floridas of the college basketball world, even though there weren't too many Floridas this year -- teams that were very talented and athletic, played together as a team and were well-coached.

So nex year, I do expect the Bruins to repeat as Pac-10 champions and again make a strong run in the tournament. UCLA should conservatively be among the best five teams in the country.

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