This was supposed to be one of the better Final Fours in a long while; Four teams with 30 plus wins, each holding a conference championship and each using unique styles to win games all season were included in this final weeked of play.
There were a ton of great players: Greg Oden, Roy Hibbert, Arron Afflalo, Al Horford, Mike Conley Jr., Darren Collison and so on.
But this event didn't live up to that standard, as in my opinion it was one great and three very good teams playing in the final weekend of the college basketball season. And, just like expected by several of the "experts" and fans, that great team came out of Atlanta as the National Champions.
Below are my thoughts on the first of the two games that led the Gators to their second-straight national title.
- The matchup with the Bruins on Saturday night was going to be a tough one due to the great defensive presence this UCLA team had throughout their tournament run prior to the final weekend. In games against teams like Pitt and Kansas, the Bruins had only given up 50 points per game to their tournament opposition, a stat that was pretty impressive no matter how you looked at it.
But the Bruins hadn't faced a frontcourt like Florida just yet; a variable that adds whole new dimensions to the game, especially with the ability to create an effective inside-outside game -- something that the Gators pulled off very well.
- With that, I'd be disappointed if I were a Bruins fan in the carbon-copied gameplan from last year's national title game between these two teams; the plan including traps in the backcourt, double-teams in the post and depending on a quick perimeter defense to stop the three-point attack of the Gators.
- The quick hands of the Bruins on the perimeter did cause some problems for the Gators, as the Orange and Blue did commit 16 turnovers in the game.
- And, I will admit, doubling-down in the post worked out well for the Bruins in one aspect. They only gave up a total of 17 points to the Gators two starting big-men, Joakim Noah and Al Horford. However, the insistence on not allowing Noah and Horford to beat them made way for another one of the Gators' strengths to take over: three-point shooting.
Corey Brewer and Lee Humphrey both hit four three pointers on the night, while the Gators went 9-22, a key factor in this win. The Bruins, on the other hand, went 5-23 from beyond the arc, including going 0-8 in the first half. Three-point shooting was key on Saturday night.
- Another note to add on the play of our big-men on Saturday night was the dominance on the glass by the Gators. They outrebounded the Bruins 43-26 on the evening. Horford grabbed 17 boards while Noah had 11. The Bruins frontcourt really had no chance on the glass as Lorenzo Mata and Luc Mbah a Moute only combined for a total of seven boards. The Gators ability to consistently grab rebounds allowed them to create the tempo of the game, and the Bruins just weren't able to keep up at times.
- The Bruins just didn't have the firepower needed to keep up with the Gators, especially as Florida was hitting their shots from the outside (which the Bruins were voluntarily giving up open ones to the dangerous outside shooters); and that was before Afflalo got into foul trouble early. Thankfully for UCLA Josh Shipp got into the act by hitting some big shots in the first half, or else this game could have been pretty ugly.
As for Afflalo, he played limited minutes obviously due to foul trouble. In 22 minutes he scored 17 points, all of them coming in the last 6:18 of the game -- after the Gators had already built a nice double-digit lead.
Afflalo is a nice player; All-American, All Pac-10, his team's leading scorer. Unfortunately on Saturday night it was the same old song and dance for him against the Gators and particularly Corey Brewer. I know that foul trouble got to him and all, but he didn't score a single point for his first 17 minutes on the court. He has a great future, and may even come back to UCLA to shore up on some of his weaknesses (luckily for him Brewer will more than likely be in the NBA next season).
Great overall outcome for Florida in the first game of the Final Four against the UCLA Bruins, particularly because of great shooting of the basketball and putting up a great defensive performance against a less-than-stellar Bruins' offense. Horford and Noah, while being hounded by double teams underneath pitched in by doing things other than scoring and the Gators even got great bench production out of Senior Chris Richard, who had 16 points in the game.
You couldn't ask much more out of this team in this game, and this match up only gave us further proof as to how this team can win in a variety of different ways.
As for UCLA, they're going to be very, very good next season. They have a ton of their nucleus coming back as well as a few very good recruits upcoming (look up "Kevin Love"). I wouldn't be surprised to see them in several Final Fours down the road, starting with it being a strong probability next season. As for now, though, it's been fun watching the Gators knock them around for the past couple of seasons.
It's great to be a Florida Gator!