Monday , Apr , 03 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Gators and Bruins meet for national title

(Sports Network) – One of the most memorable NCAA tournaments in recent
memory comes to a close this evening, as the Florida Gators and UCLA Bruins
battle it out for the national championship from the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.

The Bruins completely shut down the LSU Tigers in Final Four action on
Saturday, 59-45. It was another stellar defensive effort for the Bruins, who
have dominated foes at that end of the court this year. Ben Howland’s troops
were the two-seed in the Oakland Regional and successfully navigated the field
with wins over Belmont, Alabama, Gonzaga and finally top-seed Memphis. UCLA
boasts the nation’s longest current win streak at 12 games and comes in with a
stellar tournament resume. The Bruins are making their 40th appearance in the
NCAA tournament and hold the record for most NCAA titles with 11. Their 90
tournament victories rank second behind only Kentucky (99).

The Gators were equally impressive in their Final Four matchup with tournament
darling George Mason. Billy Donovan’s squad made light work of the Cinderella
Patriots, posting a 73-58 victory en route to their second-ever Championship
Game (lost to Michigan State in 2000). The three-seed in the Minneapolis
Regional, Florida knocked off South Alabama, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Georgetown
and Villanova, to reach its third Final Four in school history. With a victory
tonight, 40-year old Billy Donovan will become the second-youngest active
coach to win a national title (Bobby Knight was 35).

These two teams have never met on the hardwood.

The Gators have navigated the tournament field thanks to a starting five that
has flourished. Sophomore forward Joakim Noah, son of tennis great Yannick
Noah, has had a phenomenal postseason, averaging 16.2 points and 9.6 rebounds
and racking up 23 blocked shots in five tournament games. Fellow sophomore Al
Horford has been terrific as well, averaging a double-double, with 11.4 points
and 10.6 rebounds per tournament game. Yet another sophomore, Corey Brewer
adds 14.4 ppg in tournament play. It has been the same thing all season long
for the Gators, who have posted a school-record 32 victories. The team has
been able to dominate at both ends of the court, averaging 78.4 ppg, while
allowing just 63.7. All five starters are currently averaging double figures,
led by Noah’s 14.1 ppg. Sophomore point guard Taurean Green adds 13.6 ppg,
followed by Brewer (12.7 ppg), Horford (11.3 ppg) and junior guard Lee
Humphrey (10.8 ppg).

In the Final Four victory over George Mason, Humphrey matched a career-high
with six three-pointers, en route to a 19-point evening. Brewer also poured in
19 points, while Green and Noah tallied 15 and 12 points, respectively.
Horford managed just six points in the win, but came up big on the glass, with
13 rebounds. The Gators pushed the Patriots around on the boards (40-27
rebounding advantage).

As has been the case all year long, UCLA used smothering defensive play to
negate LSU’s offensive weapons, while cruising into the national title game.
The Bruins held the Tigers to a mere .320 shooting performance (third
tournament foe to be held to .320 shooting or less). In addition, UCLA
outrebounded the usually stout Tigers 42-33 and forced 15 turnovers. Pac-10
Freshman of the Year Luc Richard Mbah a Moute led the way offensively, posting
a season-high tying 17 points, while just missing out on a double-double with
nine rebounds. Sophomore point guard Jordan Farmar added 12 points. UCLA shot
lights out in the first half (.583), and despite struggling in the second half
(.259), the team never really let LSU back in the game.

Arron Afflalo leads the team in scoring on the season, but was just 3-of-11
from the floor, finishing with nine points against the Tigers. The 6-5
sophomore has been much more reliable at the offensive end all year long,
leading the team in scoring at 16.0 ppg, on .466 shooting. Farmar is both a
scorer (13.3 ppg) and deft distributor (5.1 apg). Mbah a Moute adds 9.2 points
per game on .546 shooting, in addition to averaging a team-high 8.1 rebounds
per game.