Bruins face all-too familiar foe

first_imgIn the past two seasons, no opposing big man recognized quicker and passed out of UCLA’s double-teams faster than Florida’s Joakim Noah, and no opposing point guard was able to dictate the tempo and handle the Bruins’ half-court defensive pressure like the Gators’ Taurean Green. And no opponent possessed the devastating mix of athleticism and intensity like the Gators, which is why they steamrolled UCLA 73-57 in last year’s national championship game. But perhaps the scariest part of what happened a year ago is Florida returned all five starters from that team, and lost only one key reserve. That is what the Bruins, who lost three starters from last season, face when they meet Florida on Saturday in the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. “We already know how Florida is,” UCLA sophomore point guard Darren Collison said. “They’re the team to beat. They’ve got the bells around them. They know what to expect. Every team has been giving them their best shot every single game, so we really give them credit for taking that heat. And we know how good they are as well.” Noah and Green were the Gators’ headliners in the title game, but they had plenty of assistance. Al Horford, a 6-10 forward/center, and 6-9 “small” forward Corey Brewer also scored in double-digits and played stifling defense. And there was also the sharpshooting off-guard, Lee Humphrey, who made 4 of 8 shots from 3-point range. “Florida, I said all along they’re the team to beat, and they’re still the team to beat,” Howland said. “They have experience. They have the best two big guys on the same team in the country, both future NBA players. “Brewer is absolutely terrific. He’ll be an NBA player, and really, the guy that’s unsung for them is (former NBA player) Sidney Green’s son. He’s one of the best point guards in the country. Their point guard, he’s terrific.” Florida’s starting five was the driving force in UCLA’s worst loss in more than 100 games, and each is back. Humphrey is a senior, the other four are juniors. Also, the Gators are balanced, led by Horford, who is averaging 13.4 points and 9.3rebounds per game. Green is scoring 13.1 points per game, followed by Brewer (13.1 ppg) and Noah (12.1 ppg), who is also grabbing 8.4 rebounds per game. The lone starter not averaging double-figures is Humphrey, who is at 9.8 points per game. Humphrey, however, is Florida’s best perimeter shooter, who regained his touch by going 7 of 13 from 3-point range in scoring 23 points against Oregon. Humphrey is shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc this season. The only contributor gone from last season is forward Adrian Moss, who was replaced by freshman Dan Werner. “There’s some obvious things about Florida,” UCLA guard Arron Afflalo said. “Their bigs, their presence as far as inside and out, are very good on both ends of the floor. That’s really the definition of a complete basketball team.” Also: Howland received a nice chunk of bonus change with the Bruins’ defeat of Kansas. According to Howland’s contract, he receives a $50,000 bonus for getting UCLA to the Final Four. He already earned a $25,000 bonus for winning the Pacific-10 Conference regular-season title, and will earn another $100,000 if the Bruins win the national championship. His contract guaranteed $1.15million this season. [email protected] (818) 713-3607160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Florida, the top seed in the Midwest Region and the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed, advanced to the Final Four with Sunday’s 85-77 defeat of third-seeded Oregon. The Gators have won 16 straight postseason games (10 in the NCAA Tournament, six in the Southeastern Conference tournament). UCLA, seeded second in the West, advanced to the Final Four for the 17th time in school history with Saturday’s 68-55 defeat of No. 1 seed Kansas. But the Bruins (30-5) already know the talent Florida (33-5) possesses, because they witnessed it firsthand in last year’s thrashing. The 6-foot-11 Noah had 16 points, nine rebounds and six blocked shots as Florida held a double-digit lead throughout the second half and led by as many as 20 points (53-33) with less than 12 minutes remaining. The 16-point loss was UCLA’s worst since coach Ben Howland’s first season, when the Bruins were beaten at Arizona 107-83 on Feb. 14, 2004. “They are better than a year ago and present a great challenge for us,” Howland said. “They are unbelievably talented and obviously well-coached. They have no weaknesses.” UCLA replaced point guard Jordan Farmar with Collison, wing Cedric Bozeman with redshirt sophomore Josh Shipp and athletic center Ryan Hollins with rugged, bruising junior Lorenzo Mata. The Bruins are better at pressuring the ball and scoring in transition, but are not as consistent in their half-court offense. last_img

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