Tuesday , Apr , 04 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Gator Glory: Florida pounds UCLA to become national champs

Indianapolis, IN (Sports Network) – Joakim Noah led the way with 16 points,
nine rebounds and a record six blocked shots, as the Florida Gators captured
their first NCAA Tournament title in school history with a 73-57 victory over
the UCLA Bruins in the championship game at the RCA Dome.

Florida’s only other appearance in an NCAA final was in 2000 when the school
lost to Michigan State. However, the program hit its high point six years
later under the guidance of Billy Donovan, who at 40-years-old became
the second-youngest active coach to win a national crown. Bobby Knight won the
title at age 35.

“It’s undescribable. This is the best I’ve ever felt in my life,” said Noah,
who was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player. “You work so hard for
these moments. They’re so worth it. We worked so hard as a team. So many
sweat, tears, sacrifices to get to moments like this.”

Lee Humphrey added 15 points, Al Horford had 14 and Corey Brewer scored 11
for Florida (33-6), winners of the SEC Tournament who won their final 11
games. The Gators beat South Alabama, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Georgetown,
Villanova and George Mason on the way to the final.

“My whole thing was get to the rims, layups, dunks and Lee Humphrey in
transition,” Donovan said. “If you get a layup, dunk in transition, or if Lee
Humphrey can let one go from the three-point, that’s what we’re looking for
immediately. To me the guy that orchestrated everything tonight, didn’t shoot
the ball particularly well, didn’t make a three-pointer, Taurean (Green) ran
our team.”

Jordan Farmer scored 18 for the Bruins (32-7), who came into Monday with the
nation’s longest winning streak at 12 games, but failed in their bid for a
record 12th title. The Bruins fell to 11-2 in championship games, with their
only other defeat coming in 1980 to Louisville. Their last title came in 1995
with a win over Arkansas.

“They did a great job at both ends of the floor,” Farmar said. “They left us
relying on dribble penetration. Once we got in there, it either was a blocked
shot. They changed a lot of shots. That’s just what their two bigs bring to
the table.”

When the Gators reached 45 points on a three-pointer by Brewer with 16:07
remaining, the Bruins knew it would be a difficult uphill climb. UCLA, which
was behind 45-27 at the time, had given up 45 points in each of its last two
games in the tournament, a five-point win over Memphis to get to the Final
Four and a 14-point triumph over LSU to reach the championship game.

“Their defense was terrific,” UCLA head coach Ben Howland said of the Gators.
“They did a great job defensively. We got sped up. We got a little hurried.
We had opportunities to actually come into the paint and stop, but we were
moving too fast.”

Two straight three-pointers by Arron Afflalo had the Bruins within 57-43 with
8:47 left, but Noah, who ended with a record for blocks in a championship
game, came right back down the floor and jammed.

UCLA managed to cut its deficit to 12 points a few times, the last at 65-53
following a bucket from Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, but Humphrey came back with
the dagger, a three-pointer from the right wing with 2:06 left.

Florida played superb ball control offensive with 21 assists to just six

An 8-2 run by Florida opened a 25-15 lead. Bruins center Lorenzo Mata picked
up his third foul with eight minutes left in the half with UCLA behind 27-17.
The Bruins had a hard time scoring inside, and outside for that matter,
shooting 29.6 percent to 44.4 percent for the Gators in the first 20 minutes.

UCLA turned the ball over eight times in the first half.

The Gators led 36-25 at the break and stretched that advantage to 20 just over
six minutes into the second half on a bucket by Chris Richard, moving the
score to 49-29.

Game Notes

Florida was the third seed in the Minneapolis region, while UCLA was seeded
second in the Oakland region..This was the first meeting between the two
schools…Florida is one of only three SEC schools to play for the national
title, joining Kentucky and Arkansas…Florida ended 20-0 against non-SEC
teams this season…Ryan Hollins had 10 points and 10 rebounds for UCLA, while
Mbah a Moute had 10 rebounds…Afflalo ended with 10 points…The Bruins shot
36.1 percent for the game, including 3-of-17 from three-point range…Florida
shot 44.8 percent…Noah, the son of tennis star Yannick Noah, went 7-of-9
from the field…Before the game, word came that Hall of Fame UCLA coach John
Wooden was admitted to a Los Angeles-area hospital Sunday. His condition is
not considered serious…Florida’s margin of victory was the largest in a
title game since Duke beat Michigan, 71-51, in 1992…This marked the first
time in four tries an SEC team defeated a Pac-10 team for the
title…Florida’s 10 blocked shots set a championship game record…Noah’s 29
blocks during the tournament set an all-time record, eclipsing the 24 from
Arizona’s Loren Woods in 2001…Green had eight assists.