|This story originally published on FrankHoops.com|
The best way to sum up what took place Monday night in front a national television audience and 43,168 in the RCA Dome is that the Florida Gators took care of the last part of the business of winning their first-ever men's NCAA basketball title in fashion that should only be labeled overwhelming.
Oh, and one other thing: In the process, Gators' sophomore Joakim Noah won over the dwindling few who weren't already convinced he was the best player in college basketball before he turned in the very definition of a dominant performance while leading his team to a 73-57 victory over UCLA.
Sure, the John R. Wooden Award and Naismith Trophy (which will be presented this weekend in Los Angeles and Atlanta, respectively) will go to either Duke's J.J. Redick or Gonzaga's Adam Morrison. In case you didn't pay much attention to the sport this past season, that's been pretty much etched in any hard substance you can think of since early December.
And, in fact, the 6-foot-11 Noah isn't even a finalist for either award. And Glen Davis, the LSU sophomore who got tied into knots Saturday night by the very same defense Noah and his buddies shredded Monday, was Player of the Year in the conference (Southeastern) Florida belongs to.
But Monday night, with two of the greatest big men ever (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton) sitting in the UCLA section in support of their alma mater, Noah put on a demonstration of the caliber of play turned in regularly by those former Bruins over three seasons apiece for John R. Wooden.
With six blocked shots (five of those in a first half that ended with the Gators in front by 11 points) and just as many UCLA attempts that he "altered" – and then some – Noah rendered moot any semblance of an interior Bruins' attack.
And his presence in the low post or facing the bucket, and especially his extraordinary passing skills, helped keep Coach Billy Donovan's team's offense clicking smoothly throughout against a defense that held Memphis and LSU to 45 points apiece in the Bruins' most recent tournament games.
The numbers he posted Monday night – 16 points, nine rebounds, three assists and those six blocks – were awfully close to the 16.2, 9.6, 3.2 and 4.6 tournament averages he brought with him against the Bruins and their legion of more-than-capable post defenders.
But Noah's performance Monday night was just like those against South Alabama, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Georgetown and George Mason before it – it needed to be watched, and savored, not defined by numbers.
And the debate among NBA talent evaluators as to who should be the No. 1 selection in the June 28 NBA Draft?
Well, we can safely assumption that's over, as of Monday night.
Does Noah return to Gainesville as a junior and help the Gators in an attempt to become the first program to win back to back championship since Duke pulled it off over the 1991 and '92 season?
Or does he don some spiffy attire and become the first soon-to-be-multi-millionaire to press the flesh with David Stern on June 28?
His mother has insisted he'll be back for his junior season but stayed tuned on that one.
But Noah, as dazzling and dominating as he was against the Bruins, wasn't the Lone Ranger for Donovan's Gators Monday night.
Corey Brewer scored 11 points with seven rebounds, four assists and three steals and was the defender most responsible for holding UCLA's top scorer, Arron Afflalo, until 11:28 remained in the contest. And the Bruins trailed by 20 points at the time.
Sophomore guard Taurean Green scored just two points (and was blanked on seven attempts behind arc) but played a near-flawless floor game with eight assists and only one turnover in 36 minutes.
Another guard, Lee Humphrey, hit four 3's, three of those after quick passes out of the post and another in transition, giving him 10 for his three-day weekend in the RCA Dome.
Al Horford (14 points, seven rebounds and three assists) was nearly as dominating as Noah was down low.
As for the Bruins, they'll miss seniors Cedric Bozeman and Ryan Hollins but will have more than enough returning (including redshirt Josh Shipp) – especially if point guard Jordan Farmar opts to put off committing to the NBA Draft for another season – to challenge not only for another Pac 10 title but a trip to Atlanta, and the 2007 Final Four, as well.
But so much for talking about what might happen next season.
The Florida Gators, especially Joakim Noah, gave the just-concluded season a pretty nifty sendoff. And that's worth celebrating – as you know they're doing in Gainesville at this very moment – for a bit longer.
Inducted into the USBWA Hall of
Fame last April, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is
also a columnist for the