Monday , Mar , 12 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

Defending champs could draw Olson’s Wildcats in round two

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – On the heels of their third consecutive
SEC Tournament title, the Florida Gators begin their quest this week to become
the first team in 15 years to win back-to-back national titles as the top seed
in the Midwest region.

The defending national champion Gators (29-5), fresh off a victory over
Arkansas Sunday for the SEC Tournament championship, won 17 straight games at
one point this season. They will face Southwest Athletic Conference champion
Jackson State on Friday in New Orleans.

Led by the strong frontcourt play of Al Horford and Joakim Noah, the Gators
lead the nation in field goal percentage and will try to continue their
amazing play in March. They are 16-1 in postseason play the last three years
and 18-1 in March over that time.

A team hasn’t won back-to-back championships since Duke in 1991-92.

“I think it’s important for us to have a swagger, but stay humble and realize
(to) not take anything for granted,” Noah said. “I think that’s really
important, especially at this time of the year. Because I think what’s
important this time of year, is to realize that if you don’t play hard, and
you don’t win, you’re going home.”

In what could be a great second-round matchup, the Gators may have to face
Arizona, if the eighth-seeded Wildcats can get past Purdue. The Wildcats are
making their 23rd consecutive NCAA appearance and 26th overall. The 23 trips
is the nation’s longest active string, and ties coach Lute Olson with former
Tar Heel coach Dean Smith for the all-time record streak.

“Just to be mentioned in the same sentence with him is a great compliment,”
Olson said. “The most difficult thing about doing that here is that we have
not had a lot of Arizona players. We have had to go into everyone else’s

Last year, Arizona was an eighth seed and beat another Big Ten team,
Wisconsin, in the first round before losing to No. 1 Villanova. This marks the
10-year anniversary of Arizona’s only national championship.

“The whole thing in ’97 when we won it, we are still the only team in the
history of the NCAA that has beaten three No. 1 seeds,” Olson said. “So, at
least that’s somewhere in our history and it’s not that long ago – 10 years
ago. Purdue is all we are thinking about right now.”

The Badgers, who had one of the more impressive resumes, losing to Ohio State
in the Big Ten Tournament title game, are the No. 2 seed in the Midwest and
will play Southland winner Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Friday in Chicago. One
of nine teams that have been to at least nine straight NCAA tournaments,
Wisconsin is aiming for its second Final Four appearance in school history,
the other coming in 2000.

Oregon, the third seed and winners of the Pac-10 tourney, will face the
RedHawks of Miami-Ohio, in the first round Friday in Spokane. The winner of
that contest meets the 6-11 matchup between Notre Dame and Big South victor

Fourth-seeded Maryland and fifth-seeded Butler play their first-round games in
Buffalo on Thursday. The Terrapins face Southern Conference winner Davidson,
while the Bulldogs tangle with Old Dominion, which received an at-large bid
out of the Colonial Athletic Association.

The other first-rounder from the Midwest will be in Chicago on Friday as No. 7
UNLV plays Georgia Tech. The Rebels, Mountain West Conference tournament
champions, are headed to their first NCAA tourney in seven years. The seventh
seeding is also the highest placement for a Rebel squad since the 1990-91 team
was a No. 1 before eventually losing in the Final Four.

“This group has played like they have something to prove all year long,” UNLV
coach Lon Kruger said. “Their attitude has been great. Their perspective has
been great. I know they’ll prepare over the next three or four days for
Georgia Tech the same way and look forward to playing on Friday.”

Interestingly, UNLV and Georgia Tech have met each other just once on the
basketball court and it was part of a Final Four. UNLV downed Georgia Tech
in 1990 in the national semifinals, and the Rebels then beat Duke two nights
later for the school’s only national title.

The Midwest regional semifinals and final will be held at the Edward Jones
Dome in St. Louis.