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Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
4/04/2006 03:08:00 AM

Inside Florida's Title-Game Domination

Al Horford
Forward Al Horford scored 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds as part of Florida's interior domination.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS -- UCLA had seen the looks so many times before. Point guard Jordan Farmar had called them "deer-in-the-headlights" expressions. They'd be all over the mugs of opponents -- like Final Four foe LSU -- who were taken completely out of their offense by the Bruins' swarming defensive schemes.

The problem on Monday night, in the Bruins' biggest game of the season, is that the looks were on their own faces. They turned into the frozen deer, and Florida's offense -- which scored 55 points inside the arc alone in the 73-57 win -- was a set of 200,000 candlepower headlights. "I'm sure they watched a lot of tape of what we've been doing recently," said Farmar -- and by that, he meant holding Memphis and LSU to their two lowest-scoring games of the season. But the Gators, well ... the Gators were a different -- and more disciplined -- animal. "They," Farmar said, "schemed exactly to counter it."

So what did Florida do on offense that so many of UCLA's opponents couldn't during the Bruins' 12-game win streak to reach the title game? Here are five ways the Gators thrived:

1. The Gators struck the first blow -- and actually established their offensive sets. Fellow SEC power LSU got popped in the face by UCLA on Saturday, falling behind 20-8 and never swinging back. The Bruins ran the Tigers into the ground early -- they had Glen "Big Baby" Davis huffing and puffing -- and then deflated the ball in the second half. UCLA would have no such opportunity, as it trailed 11-6 in the first four minutes and was already being subjected to "Gator Bait" chants from the Florida fans. The Bruins trailed 36-25 by halftime, and their offense was too cold to mount a comeback.

"You've gotta come out and punch them right away, because if they come out and punch you first, you've gotta fight from behind, and you can't win basketball games like that," said Florida forward Corey Brewer, who scored five of the Gators' first nine points. "So we came out and we were the aggressor."

Ben Howland's Bruins had thrived on applying intense pressure on the perimeter to take away easy looks and limit execution, but the coach said "Florida did an outstanding job of dealing with it." The Gators had 21 assists -- including eight by point guard Taurean Green -- on their 26 field goals, and turned the ball over just six times.

"The fact that we couldn't [take Florida out of its offense] was a problem," said Farmar. "We gave up almost 40 points at halftime, and that's what teams have been having at the ends of games against us the last few times."

2. Florida made deep post feeds, and neutralized UCLA's double-teams with its big men's passing abilities. "We got the ball down low and attacked them right at the rim," said assistant coach Larry Shyatt, "and that took the wind out of their sails early." The Bruins had used big-to-big double-teams out of their man-to-man to kill LSU's Davis and Tyrus Thomas, but that strategy was rendered ineffective against the Gators' Joakim Noah and Al Horford, both of whom are skilled post passers. Florida's first basket, appropriately, came on a dish from Horford to Noah. "Our bigs really find eachother well," said Shyatt, "and I think that forced UCLA to start going away from their double teams." Noah and Horford went wild, combining for 30 points. (For their full story, check Stew Mandel's postgame column.)

3. Florida pushed the pace to a level where the Bruins were uncomfortable. The Gators used Noah and Horford's ballhandling ability to break UCLA's traps, and found themselves with a host of wide-open, momentum-building slams. "Every time we tried to make a run," said Bruins guard Arron Afflalo, "it seemed like they got dunks back behind us. We're not a team that's intimidated by a dunk, but for them, it's just adding fuel to their energy." With the game turned into a high-speed, high-energy affair, "we made some mistakes getting sped up," Howland said. "We weren't finishing on the other end, and were trying to go too fast." UCLA claimed it could play a faster game, but the stats don't lie: At season's end, they were the 303rd slowest-paced team in the country.

4. The Gators found looks for their shooters in transition. Just like he did against George Mason on Saturday, two-guard Lee Humphrey -- or "Humpty Dump," as Noah calls him -- knocked down dagger 3s at the start of the second half. The difference on Monday was that Humphrey's key trey didn't come out of an offensive set. Because of the strength of Afflalo and Cedric Bozeman's defense, "We never even planned on getting Lee open in this game in the halfcourt," Shyatt said. "We knew they would take him out, because they've done a phenomenal job of defending the 3 all tournament." Humphrey proved tougher to find on the break -- and he scored the Gators' first six points of the second half on treys.

5. Florida got a superb effort out of an unflustered point guard. Farmar -- who had 18 points and four assists -- was the lone bright spot for UCLA, but his peer, the Gators' Green, may have been the game's unsung hero. Green was the guy "who orchestrated everything," said Florida head coach Billy Donovan, and Green finished with an 8:1 assist-to-turnover ratio after averaging 1.4:1 on the season. "[Green] made life so much easier for Horford and Noah because we kept running middle pick-and-roll," said Donovan. "Either he was dumping it off for a dunk, or he's throwing the ball back to Joakim where he could drive it down the lane."

posted by Luke Winn | View comments |  


Posted: 4:41 AM   by dipthought
Wow! Tradition be damned. Forget the experts. This is our night.
Go Gators!
Posted: 7:20 AM   by Anonymous
can everyone stop knocking on the SEC now?
Posted: 8:25 AM   by Anonymous
Gator's are for real! Not that many people thought they were. I kept hearing about UCLA tradition but they hadn't been to the finals since 1995 I think. The Gator's made the final game in 2000 and again in 2006 to win it all. Looks like a tradition has started. How many other teams have been there twice in the last 7 years? Let's give Billy and the 2006 Gator's the credit they deserve. The SEC is now a basketball powerhouse!

Goooooo Gators!
Posted: 8:29 AM   by Anonymous
how do we know that george mason played a horrible game against florida???????????????? it seems like ucla didnt do much better against florida than george mason and they had size to contened with the size of florida.
Posted: 8:52 AM   by Anonymous
Talking about a team peaking at the right time of the YEAR! Florida's basketball program just keeps getting better, with this young team they could be back again next year.

The Gators domination of UCLA seemed to catch everyone off gaurd including UCLA, but looking at how they played the entire tournament maybe it should not have been as much of a surprise.

Posted: 9:03 AM   by Anonymous
It's great to be a Florida Gator! Unsung heroes. They beat everyone in the tournament by double digits (save Georgetown). Add 20 points to the year, and they are undefeated. Great team, class act! Feels so good right now.
Posted: 9:25 AM   by Lank
No one mentioned anything about the huge dunk off the end-out play that UCLA had in the second half. They never even showed a replay on the broadcast. I'd love to see that one again. If anyone knows of a link to a replay of that play, please speak up.
Posted: 9:40 AM   by Anonymous
Gators looked good in the last 2 games and deserved to win it all. I will say this, George Mason looked better gainst UF than UCLA did. I hope the pollsters will recognize this.
Posted: 11:01 AM   by Anonymous
I have never been more proud to be a GATOR!! Billy D and the Gator team are just amazing, and have made UF a BASKETBALL school, and a darn good one at that!!! I have enjoyed watching the Gators DOMINATE all season long. The SEC is a tough conference, and I got so tired of hearing about how good the ACC and Big East were. No one even talked about the Gators during the regular season. But the GATORS HAVE MADE THEIR PRESENCE KNOWN. Where's Duke and North Carolina now!!! IT'S GREAT TO BE A FLORIDA GATOR! WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS!
Posted: 1:30 PM   by Anonymous
I've never seen a worse defense to a high screen than what Ucla did last night. My 4th & 5th grade team worked through a screen better than that. And if you are going to switch...then SWITCH...my goodness giving Noah about 2o feet of uncontested space was killer...
Posted: 3:35 PM   by Anonymous
It would have been nice if the refs called anything against Florida. Aside from a bunch of obvious walks, there were plenty of fouls that magically didn't get called or anything.
Posted: 3:53 PM   by Eric
As a UCLA fan, I hope we're better than George Mason, but who knows. Florida sure had the talent, smarts, hustle (or all three) to break our defense, a defense that stopped at least a couple of very good teams (Memphis, LSU) dead in their tracks. Hats off to the Gators.

Although the we didn't win, we also came out of nowhere and exceeded expectations. I'm looking forward to some very good years to come.
Posted: 3:55 PM   by Anonymous
Lank, That was an incredible dunk! I wish I had taped the game as I expected to see replays as well. My wife was on the phone watching the game and went "Holy Sh**" did you see that. He looked like he jumped completely over Noah! Great game for the Gators. Hope they all come back but the hunger may be missing!
Posted: 5:06 PM   by Anonymous
GO GATORS! You're damn right we won:)
Posted: 5:26 PM   by Sumeet Patel
It's great to be a florida gator...I joined our facebook group saying we were winning the title back after we won the coaches versus cancer classic...winning in my last semester here is incredible...what a way to go out
Posted: 5:46 PM   by Anonymous
Congrats to the Gators and the power of the SEC this year.......NIT champs and NCAA Champs.

As a Bama fan.........I must add Bama72 Gators 67 in February.I f you can't be the best you can beat the best. Roll Tide and Go Gators!!!!
Posted: 10:05 PM   by Anonymous
So proud to be a Gator!
It was the best moment in my life.
What a fun to watch them play. They even made 18dunks against the so-called best-defense team.
Posted: 4:17 AM   by Anonymous
Bravo les gators
Toute l'equipe a ete fantastique
Merci pour le show

Posted: 6:14 AM   by Anonymous
Fantastiques gators
Bravo et merci pour le show
Toute l'équipe a été superbe
Robert in Marseille France
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