I've already discussed the Gators semi-final win over the UCLA Bruins. Now it's time to take an extremely quick and disoriented look at the Gators title-clinching victory over the Buckeyes of Ohio State, a match up that of course looked very familiar to the game that decided the college football national championship in January.
The Gators had already beaten the Buckeyes on the hardwood this season, dominating the boys in scarlet and grey 86-60. This win came in late December, a time that saw a very young, inexperienced Buckeyes team trying to find a rhythm as well as a not-fully-functional Greg Oden.
OSU had improved ten-fold since that regular season game, and had a very notable tournament run that saw them make great comebacks against Xavier and Tennesee, as well as dominating victories over Memphis and Georgetown.
- You can't discuss this game without first discussing the great performance out of the Buckeyes center Greg Oden. The big freshman had the type of game we all thought he was capable of; He scored 25 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked four shots in the game against the Gators, all while staying out of foul trouble (which has been a consistent theme for him throughout the tournament).
While it's easy to look at his overly impressive stats in this game, it's impossible to describe the way the big man changed the game completely with his presence alone. He was basically scoring at will on offense (although it should be mentioned that this was part of the Florida strategy), rebounding anything that came his way and changed so many shots by the Gators inside. If he does leave early and isn't picked #1, I will laugh at that ridiculous NBA team that passes on him.
- Throughout the game we saw a very consistent cycle of Gator big men, which was due to Coach Donovan trying to manage any kind of foul trouble that may come about from trying to cover Oden. When it was all said and done each of the quartet of Joakim Noah, Chris Richard*, Al Horford and Marreese Speights had at least three fouls on the night.
The foul trouble for our bigs came about because our defensive strategy for this game included not doubling Oden and instead trying to avoid giving up the big shot -- which worked, because the Buckeyes went a miserable 4-23 from beyond the arc.
There's probably not a player in America that could have guarded Oden last night without getting some fouls. I'm just glad the Gators had enough depth at the position to keep throwing bodies out there at him.
- In December the Gators feasted on the Buckeyes by continually running the high pick and roll around the key with Green and Horford. The vital part of this offensive set is getting Oden out closer to the perimeter to try and achieve points underneath or free up a shooter for a mid-range jumper.
The Gators caught on to this once again last night, as a much more in-shape and athletic Oden was making it even tougher to score on the Buckeyes this time around. Luckily we saw this set give Horford a couple of good open jumpers and even confused the Buckeyes defense enough to give guys like Lee Humphrey and Corey Brewer good looks at three pointers. The Gators used all of the open space created to hit 10-18 threes on the evening.
- The Gators also shot very well from the free-throw stripe, hitting 22-25 on the night, including some big ones down the stretch when they were trying to close out the game. Free throw shooting was a huge key in this title run throughout the tournament.
- Speaking of Humphrey, Brewer and Green, the Gators hit so many big shots last night to squash Ohio State mini-runs. I am at a point where I can't even name them all, because it happened the entire game. They took advantage of offensive rebounds and turnovers to either hit crucial three-pointers or momentum-boosting slam dunks.
It may sound a bit cliche, but that's what good teams do. They don't allow big runs by other teams and they hit shots when they need them for momentum.
This game just about summed up the tournament run for the Gators. It seemed as if the Orange and Blue was never not in control of any of their games in March, and even against the second-best team in the nation (Ohio State deservedly owns that title) our boys never lost focus on the ultimate goal.
Greg Oden had his best possible game, and Mike Conley was pretty darn impressive himself with 20 points and six assists. The Buckeyes do that against any other team and they're nearly impossible to beat. The Gators beat them by nine points last night even with these great performances from Ohio State's two best players. This group of players came back for one reason -- to win another national title -- and there was just nothing that was going to stand in their way in Atlanta.
I'll have a few closing thoughts on the Gators basketball team over the next couple of days. Plus I'll have some stuff up on Billy D's future to go along with the NBA status of our Juniors.
It's great to be a Florida Gator!
*Unfortunately Richard fouled out in his last game as a Senior, but his impact was felt across the board throughout this tournament and his career.